The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, in Southeast Asia, is landlocked by Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. The population of 7.6 million people is diverse, with 49 ethnic groups formally recognized by the government. However, as many as 200 different ethnic groups exist overall. The majority of the population identifies as ethnically Lao, with smaller portions identifying as Khmou, Hmong, Phouthay, Tai, Makong, Katong, Lue, and Akha. Languages spoken include the official language, Lao, as well as French, English, and a variety of local ethnic languages. The majority of the population practices Buddhism. About 37 percent of the population lives in urban areas, such as Vientiane, the capital, and some larger settlements along the Mekong River and the southwestern border.
In 1975, Laos emerged from the Vietnam War as a communist state, and remains a one-party socialist republic. It is often criticized for lacking in civil liberties and human rights by the international community. Nonetheless, Laos is one of the fastest-growing economies in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Since 2009 it has grown on average 7.4 percent a year. This has resulted in improving development indicators like reduced poverty and malnutrition, and better education. However, there is still room for progress on all of these fronts, as education attainment and quality of learning are still lacking. A child in Laos who goes to school for 10.8 years will receive only about 6.4 years of actual learning.
While the economy in Laos continues to rapidly grow, health problems persist and negatively impact the population. Malnutrition continues to cause stunting, afflicting over 30 percent of children under five years of age. In addition, maternal mortality remains high, with 185 deaths per 100,000 births. Other leading causes of death in Laos include stroke, ischemic heart disease, lower respiratory infections, neonatal disorders, tuberculosis, COPD, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, cirrhosis, diarrheal diseases, road injuries, and congenital defects. The risk factors that contribute most to deaths and disabilities include malnutrition, air pollution, high blood pressure, high fasting plasma glucose, dietary risks, high body-mass index, alcohol and tobacco use, kidney dysfunction, occupational risks, and insufficient water, sanitation, and hygiene.
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