Health conditions and welfare have improved over the past
three decades, but Laos is still one of the poorest
countries in East and Southeast Asia. In 2008, it was
estimated that 19% of residents were chronically
malnourished, mainly children in rural areas. In this
respect, nothing had improved during the previous ten-year
period. More than 70 per cent live in self-catering
agriculture and many of them belong to minority people. They
live in remote mountain villages with great deficiencies in
communications and social service. The differences in wealth
between them and most of the cities are growing. The most
vulnerable are Sinotibetan ethnic groups, followed by the
Hmong-mien. Visit AbbreviationFinder to see the definitions of LAO and acronym for Laos.
In 2008, 72 per cent of urban households had access to
clean water but only 51 per cent of rural households.
Toilets and drains were found for 86% in cities but only 38%
in rural areas. Maternal mortality in connection with
pregnancy and childbirth has decreased correspondingly, but
is still high, internationally. The differences in mortality
between city and countryside and between different provinces
are very evident. The prevalence of malaria has decreased
significantly during the 1990s, but malaria is still a
common cause of death. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the
country is low in a regional comparison.
In the mid-00s there were 4 doctors and 12 beds per
10,000 residents. Health care is mainly state, but in the
cities there are also private pharmacies and clinics. In
remote areas there are usually only volunteers with very
short education. In 2007, 30 per cent of the medical
expenses were covered by aid, but often such projects are
competing or overlapping.
Several social insurance systems have been established
during the 1990s, but there are a number of obstacles to
making them general. The majority of the employed are in the
informal sector of business and they often lack money to pay
insurance premiums. In addition, the insurance systems are
administratively underdeveloped. A compulsory insurance
system covers all government employees and includes health
care as well as pensions, child benefits, work injuries,
maternity benefits and life insurance. Pension is paid to
men from the age of 60 and to women from the age of 55. A
similar mandatory system exists in private companies with
ten and more employees, but only in some of the provinces.
Others may take out voluntary health insurance. However, the
connection to the latter two systems is very slow. In 2009,
less than 8 percent of the population had social insurance.
For the poorest, state social assistance should cover the
cost of sickness, but the tax revenue required for this is