In January 2011, USAID placed a staff person in Laos after a 35-year absence, although regional health activities benefiting the people of Laos had been underway for several years prior to that. In July 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Laos, marking the first visit by a Secretary of State since 1955. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic was once one of the world’s poorest countries with an estimated 6.5 million population, under-developed infrastructure, and the lowest income levels in Asia. This small landlocked country is now regarded as the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia. The country recently joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) membership.