Between 2005 and 2015, the literacy rate rose from 73 to 85 percent. About 90% of men and 80% of women over the age of 15 can read and write. In the poorer provinces of Bokeo, Phongsaly and Luang Namtha and in the eastern parts of Savannakhet and Saravan provinces, however, the overall rate is lower and the proportion of women unable to read and write is significantly higher than at the national level.
Some reading projects try to remedy the situation, make the children enjoy reading and provide the necessary reading material. There is hardly any reading culture in Laos.
For those who can read, in addition to social media, the internet offers a lot of information in Lao. However, internet use in Laos is often characterized by superficial scrolling of social media. Freely available information, which would mean an enormous increase in knowledge, remains unused under the glittering surface of social media.
School, vocational and university education
According to estatelearning, a third of Laotian children still drop out of primary school, which lasts for six years, in order to be able to contribute to the family’s livelihood. Further problems are the inadequate training of teachers. Jobs in remote areas are not coveted jobs. Sometimes there is a lack of simple resources such as pens and notebooks in the schools in the villages.
At the request of the Lao partner, German development cooperation is promoting the establishment of a demand-oriented dual vocational training system.
The National University of Laos (NUOL) is the only university in the country. In cooperation with, among others, European and Asian partner universities, the first technical master’s courses have already been developed.
The health system in Laos is underdeveloped. The health system accounted for just under 2.8% of GDP in 2011. There is no comprehensive health insurance system. Much of the rural population has no access to basic health care and little knowledge and information about nutrition and health. Access to clean drinking water is not yet guaranteed in all parts of the country. The high rates of infant and maternal mortality are currently the greatest challenges in the country’s development.
Laos has the second highest rate of malnutrition among under five year olds in the region after East Timor. Nationwide, 36 percent (2015) of small children are malnourished, in some of the poorer provinces even 58 percent. However, the first five years of a child’s life are central to the development of motor and cognitive skills as well as the immune system.
Many mothers have to go back to work in the rice fields shortly after giving birth, and it is not uncommon for newborns to eat sticky rice shortly after giving birth. Less than half of all infants under six months of age are fully breastfed. More than 5000 babies die each year from the health consequences of malnutrition.
The reasons for the inadequate diet are a mixture of the geographical remoteness of some villages, insufficient knowledge of the relationship between a balanced diet and the effects on health, and cultural eating habits. Most of the villages live from subsistence agriculture, their food security depends heavily on the season and weather.
Laos has been participating in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) program since 2011. The programme’s multisectoral approach includes health, hygiene, development and training specifically for women. To improve the nutritional situation, a mixture of development and behavior change is necessary, which takes time.
In 2017 the 5-year program (EU / UNICEF) “Partnership for Improved Nutrition in Lao PDR” started in ten provinces.
HIV / AIDS
Compared to its neighbors, Laos has a low AIDS rate of 0.3% HIV-infected. Anti-retroviral therapies to treat the disease are only possible in just under half of the cases. Men are more educated about the risks of contracting AIDS. In the course of modernization, the social behavior of young people has changed. Traditional morals are fading, nightlife in clubs and discos in the capital is booming. While condoms are available almost all over the country, their use remains a common social taboo. With every improvement in infrastructure, increasing migrant work, tourism and the rampant problem of poverty prostitution, the threat grows.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS in Laos provide comprehensive information and statistics on the health system and related issues in Laos.
Between medical and sporting challenges
The filmmaker Killi O’Reilly has made an impressive and moving documentary about Isabell and Volker Schöffl. It shows the two German doctors during their work in central Laos and also in their free time setting up new climbing routes.