I traveled to Laos last week at the invitation of several organizations to explore new work there. The field there is quite wide open for me to develop work and several new collaborative projects were established. I was also able to provide some initial health consultations and trainings to organizations working with survivors.
Health care in Laos is dismal. My colleague states that there are only TWO trained psychiatric physicians in the entire country. Those who are able travel to Thailand for health care do so. Poor health care of course leads to higher morbidity and mortality, increases debt and decreases productivity, which contributes to vulnerability. Approximately 73% of 5.7 million people in Laos live on less than $2 per day.
The Thai-Lao border is quite porous, legally and illegally. Economic, health care, and educational disparities all serve as “push factors” for people traveling or migrating to the relatively wealthy neighboring countries. Men and boys tend to end up in situations of heavy labor exploitation, and women and girls tend to end up in domestic service or any form of the “entertainment” industry. The infrastructure connecting the Greater Mekong Subregion is opening up borders between the neighboring countries. Here is a look at the transportation infrastructure plan: GMS transport plan
Regarding human trafficking, there is trafficking within, from, and through the country. Given that the spectrum from legal (yet difficult) migration and full-blown trafficking is very grey, it is difficult to provide solid statistics.
Already I have plans to return in a couple months to give a two day workshop Lao physicians in how to care for trafficked people and work with this and other organizations in developing their aftercare programs. I’ll also be collaborating on a research project studying health consequences of trafficked people.
Vientiane reminded me a lot of Phnom Penh, only less dusty, and less chaotic. The people are warm and friendly. Because the languages are so closely related, I was able to speak Thai and be understood by most people. Likewise, many people can speak at least some Thai. I very much look forward to my next trip.