At a glance: Lao People's Democratic Republic

Laos: Special care for HIV-positive children

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© UNICEF video
Ten-year-old Aling draws in a colouring book at school. Infected by HIV since birth, she feels much better now thanks to anti-retroviral drugs.

By Steve Nettleton

VIENTIANE, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 16 February 2006 – It’s time for a monthly check up for 10-year-old Aling. After inspecting her vital signs, the doctor tells her the good news: Aling’s treatment appears to be holding back the HIV virus that has infected her since birth.

Aling hasn’t always been healthy. Both of her parents died of AIDS when she was still very young. She has lived with her grandmother for most of her life. In the past Aling would frequently get very sick. But since she started taking anti-retro viral drugs her health has improved dramatically.

“She doesn’t clearly understand what she faces,” said Aling’s grandmother, Ms. Vansy. “She knows that before, she felt sick. And after she received treatment from the doctor, she felt better. That’s all she knows.”

Aling attends a UNICEF-supported self-help group for people living with HIV and AIDS in the Lao capital, Vientiane. UNICEF has helped establish such groups in three provinces across the country. The groups provide social, emotional and economic support, as well as self-empowerment.

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© UNICEF video
Aling stands in the doorway of her home, where she lives with her grandmother.

The prevalence of HIV and AIDS remains low in Lao PDR; official estimates put the figure at 0.06 per cent. However the country’s geographic location as a crossroads of southeast Asia leaves it vulnerable to a rapid spread of the illness. Increasing numbers of migrant workers and those in the sex trade are becoming infected.

Treatment options have been limited. In 2005 there was only one hospital distributing anti-retro viral drugs, located in the southern town of Savannakhet.

“The biggest problem is access to treatment,” said Dr. Saykham Phaxayaseng, head of the AIDS care and treatment unit at Sethathirad Hospital. “There are only a few places in Laos where people can get access to treatment in the country. They must travel long distances.”

UNICEF helps cover the costs for HIV-positive people to travel to Savannakhet to collect their life-saving drugs. It also supports life-skills education for children in and out of school, and peer education for rural young people who are likely to move to bigger towns or cross the border to seek work.

For many, spiritual care is just as important as medical care. UNICEF supports an initiative by Buddhist monks to provide meditation and prayer sessions for those living with HIV and AIDS. These visits aim to help them deal with their fears and the social stigma of their condition. The monks also help fight misinformation about the disease in the community at large.

“The Buddhist clergy in Laos is playing a very important role in communities through the temples, in providing information and knowledge about the problem of HIV and AIDS in their neighborhoods,” said UNICEF Representative in Laos Olivia Yambi.

With proper doses of clinical and emotional treatment, Aling and others affected by HIV and AIDS can hope to beat back their illness – and find greater acceptance in their communities.


 

 

Video

16 February 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on how one girl in Laos is getting the help she needs, both physical and spiritual, to treat HIV.

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