Vientiane, 1 December 2016
The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day marked on 1 December is Hands Up for #HIV Prevention. Globally, there are 36.7 million people living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), with an average of 2.1 million new cases per year.
Photo: UNAIDS Lao PDR
HIV prevalence in the general population in Laos continues to be low, thanks to the country’s decisive and strategic HIV response. In Lao PDR, there are approximately 11,000 people living with HIV, with an estimated 1,000 new infections each year. The Lao Government has adopted a Fast Track Target to reduce the number of new HIV infections to below 300 new cases per year, by the year 2020.
Last year, the former President of Lao PDR Choummaly Sayasone joined 192 world leaders in New York to adopt the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and endorsed the “United Nations Political Declaration on Ending AIDS” by 2030.The Global AIDS Strategy is incorporated across five SDGs: Good Health and Wellbeing [SDG 3]; Gender Equality [SDG5]; Reducing Inequality [SDG 10]; Just, Peaceful and Inclusive societies [SDG 16]; and Global Partnership [SDG17].
Enabling people with HIV to access treatment is one of the most effective strategies to reduce HIV transmission, as people on HIV treatment become less likely to pass on HIV to their partner(s). However, in Lao PDR, only 34 percent of people living with HIV have successfully accessed life-saving antiretroviral therapy, which is still a long way off the global target of 90 percent by 2020.
On the occasion of this year’s World AIDS Day, UN Resident Coordinator Ms Kaarina Immonen said: “Speed is critical to end the AIDS epidemic. The window of opportunity to address the expansion of the HIV epidemic in the country is quickly closing. The Government and development partners therefore need to act now.”
Although Lao PDR is now classified as a lower middle-income country, it still remains heavily dependent on external funding for its AIDS response. Government expenditure on HIV response and from domestic resources have risen from 7 percent of total resources in 2011 to 31 percent of the total HIV annual budget in 2015. However these expenses mainly cover staff salaries and administration costs. There is a need to mobilize additional domestic resources to enhance impacts and sustainability of HIV services.
WHO Representative, Dr Juliet Fleischl said “Much has been achieved in the testing, prevention, treatment and care of HIV patients and we need to continue to remove the barriers to accessing HIV services. We will continue to support the Government to expand the services to reach everyone, to ensure that no one is left behind. This may require the Government to revisit some of its current policies and laws to remove the legal and policy barriers and improve access to HIV services for those at risk.”
The implementation of the new National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan for 2016 to 2020 will require increased domestic resource allocation, stronger cross-border collaboration, closer partnerships with the private sector and with community organizations, a scale-up of community-led HIV prevention programs, and better access to treatment, care and support for people who are already living with HIV infection.
To reduce the number of yearly new HIV infections, the focus of the HIV response has been on ‘key populations’. Experts working on HIV believe that men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women will bear the heaviest burden of new HIV infections in the coming years. The prevalence of HIV among these groups is estimated to be between two to four percent in key Laotian cities, which is up to 10 times higher than the HIV prevalence in the general population. However in 2015, only one in three MSM and transgender women was reached by community-led interventions to prevent HIV.
With an increase in migration in and out of the country, and large numbers of young people working on infrastructure development projects such as dams and roads, HIV specialists are concerned that new infections may occur among people who are currently considered as ‘low-risk’, for instance through unsafe sex practices with sex workers.
To end the HIV epidemic by 2030, there is a need to mainstream HIV into the work of all development partners, for instance programmes on gender equality, human rights, workplace education, health system strengthening, social safety nets, maternal and child health, and sexual and reproductive health.
Let us put our Hands Up for #HIV Prevention.
For details information, please contact:
WHO: Tan Irene, Communications Officer, Tel: +856 21- 3539 02-4 E-mail: tanir@ who.int