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 percent 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 percent of urban households had access to clean water but only 51 percent 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 percent of the medical expenses were covered by aid, but often such projects are competing or overlapping. Check to see Laos population.
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 not enough.
The economy is in conditions of heavy backwardness: estimates made by the World Bank attributed to Laos a per capita income of no more than 250 dollars (data relating to 1991). Three quarters of the active population are employed in the primary sector, which contributes less than 60% to the formation of the gross national product.
Only 3.8% of the territory is arable; to this is added 3.4% of meadows and pastures. Over 54% is covered by forests that are widely exploited to obtain various types of wood including teak. Agriculture, largely collectivized, relies on cooperatives, but denounces a very strong delay. Next to rice, corn, potatoes, cassava and peanuts, tobacco, cotton, and fruit belonging to various climatic regions (citrus fruits, bananas, pineapples, etc.) are grown. The breeding is aimed above all at pigs and buffaloes also employed in rural work. Fishing is practiced along rivers and in ponds. The subsoil seems rich, but little valued. For the moment, mainly tin is being mined, but significant deposits of lead and zinc minerals are also reported.
Apart from a few tobacco, cement and timber processing plants (sawmills), the industry is still at a handicraft level and satisfies local markets. However, a development program is underway, supported by European countries, with the aim of improving socio-sanitary conditions (in 1987 there were over 130,000 cases of malaria) and economic conditions, today among the most precarious in the world. The country is almost totally dependent on imports, mainly from Thailand, and on international aid. The economic development plans followed one another over the years: the one relating to the period 1991-95 has as its objectives the strengthening of infrastructures and the creation of export-oriented production activities, in an attempt to improve the serious deficit in the balance of payments.