The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a US$30 million grant to the Lao government to expand healthcare coverage and improve health services throughout the country.
Announced April 23, the policy-based grant will fund the second subprogram of the Health Sector Governance Program (HSGP), focusing on improving Lao healthcare in four areas: support for the Lao government’s Health Sector Reform Strategy (HSRS) process; enhance the roll-out of free healthcare for the poor, especially for women and children; improve health human resource management; and improving the health sector’s financial management system.
Under the HSRS the Lao government plans to introduce universal health coverage by 2025, with a national health insurance programme covering the entire population set to commence operating by the end of this year.
However, with a GDP of just $17 billion in 2017 Lao remains Asean’s second smallest economy, with the Lao healthcare system struggling to meet the needs of the country’s 6.8 million people, 80 per cent of who live outside of urban areas.
Four regional hospitals and 12 provincial hospitals form the Lao healthcare backbone, which according to the CIA World Factbook, saw a population to physician ratio of more than two thousand to one in 2014. Unsurprisingly those who can afford it often seek treatment when required in neighbouring Thailand or Vietnam.
With just 1.9 per cent of GDP channelled into the Lao healthcare sector in 2014 — the worlds second lowest ahead of Timor Leste — the country’s rural and urban poor have historically relied heavily on the work of non-profit organisations, such as the Lao Rehabilitation Foundation (LRF), which has been providing free medical services to the needy and remotely located in Lao since 2006.
Despite the somewhat fragmented approach the results are quite impressive, though the country ranks at or near the bottom in Asean on many key criteria.
According to the United Nation’s ‘World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision’, between 1990 and 2015 life expectancy in the land-locked nation increased 19.34 per cent — from 54.8 years to 65.4, while under-five mortality over the same period dropped 55 per cent — from 137 deaths per 1,000 live births to 60.90. Though significant improvements, both figures are the worst in Asean.
Additionally the World Bank says about 44 per cent of Laotians under five years of age suffer from malnutrition, while the ADB puts infant mortality at 86 deaths per 1,000 live births, also the worst of all Asean member countries.
Describing the path to universal Lao healthcare as a “very exciting journey”, Azusa Sato, a health specialist in ADB’s Southeast Asia Department, said it will assure the Lao people access to healthcare with affordable and more predictable costs, adding that the ADB hopes to continue working with the government to tackle other Lao healthcare issues in the future.
- ADB approves US$30 million grant to expand healthcare coverage in Laos (Vientiane Times)
- ADB Approves Second Financing to Help Lao PDR Achieve Universal Health Coverage (ADB)
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