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MSF in Laos, 2006
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National authorities and many international organizations do not perceive HIV/AIDS to be a major health problem in Laos. The prevalence is low, with an estimated 600 to 3600 people living with HIV/AIDS. Because of the low prevalence and limited investment in prevention, there is little awareness of the disease and risk of a rapid spread among vulnerable groups. With the current HIV response in Laos, UNAIDS estimates there could be more than 18,000 people living with the virus by the year 2015.
Laotians have had only one place where they can access HIV/AIDS treatment: the MSF-supported care and treatment center in the hospital of Savannakhet, a city in the south of the country. By July 2006, MSF was providing antiretrovirals (ARVs) for more than 400 people in this location. The service provides a full range of care for the patients in Savannakhet, including counselling, testing, treatment of opportunistic infections and access to ARVs.
Many patients treated in Savannakhet come from Vientiane, the country’s capital, or even further north. Some people must travel up to 24 hours to get their treatment, which adds an extra burden and causes a range of problems including difficulties getting to the hospital or adhering properly to their care and drug regimens. MSF has convinced the authorities to open a second treatment center in the country, in one of Vientiane’s leading hospitals, Settatirat, where MSF will provide technical support, training and a temporary supply of ARVs.
MSF has demonstrated that HIV patients can be cared for within public health structures, and is continuing to advocate for a national strategy so that testing and treatment will be part of the Lao health structures, carried out by Lao health authorities.
MSF has worked in Laos since 1989.