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.
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.