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Lao PDR: National HIV/AIDS Task Force prepares work plan for harm reduction responses



Vientiane, 23 May 2010 - The National Task Force on HIV and AIDS met on Friday to discussed initial findings from the Rapid Assessment and Response survey conducted in the last quarter of 2009 in the provinces of Houaphan and Phongsaly. In the meeting, the task force also devised a work plan of responses and activities, both on the ground and at policy level.

The survey which assessed drug abuse and HIV in the two Northern provinces provided a range of data on patterns of drug use and injecting drug use as well as HIV prevalence among drug users. Information on sexual behavior, such as use of condoms and HIV awareness was also collected.

While the Lao PDR remains a low HIV prevalence country, there is concern that patterns observed in neighboring countries may cause the situation in Northern Laos to change.

The work plan devised by the task force includes interventions on the ground, such as providing long-term community-based treatment programmes for opium users - before they switch to injecting heroin, and to continue educating villagers on HIV and the importance of HIV prevention through safe sexual practices and abstinence from injecting drug use.

The work plan also comprises key activities at policy level. These include advocacy with top government decision-makers on harm reduction policies and proposed national responses to HIV, which include monitoring of the situation in all parts of the country.

The national task force on HIV and AIDS is comprised of all relevant and concerned government bodies such as the Center for HIV and AIDS (CHAS), the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Public Security, and the Lao Commission on Drug Control in addition to funding partner AUSAID and UN system agencies UNODC, UNAIDS and WHO.

Launched in the last quarter of 2009, UNODC's HIV/AIDS harm reduction project contributes to the National Strategy and Action Plan on HIV/AIDS/STIs as well as to the National Drug Control Master Plan, to ultimately prevent the rise of HIV in Laos. Fully funded by the government of Australia, this project will span five years.