The Lao People’s Democratic Republic was once one of the world’s poorest countries, with an under-developed infrastructure and some of the lowest health, education, and income levels in Asia. However, this small country of an estimated 7.5 million people is now regarded as among the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia.
In January 2011, USAID placed its first staff member in Laos after a 35-year absence, although regional health activities benefiting the Lao people had been underway for several years prior. In July 2012, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Laos, marking the first visit by a Secretary of State since 1955. In September 2016, during the historic visit by President Barack Obama, he and former President Bounnhang Vorachit officially inaugurated the Comprehensive Partnership between Lao PDR and the United States of America. In May 2022, USAID Deputy Administrator (DA) Isobel Coleman, visited Laos to reaffirm our commitment to help rebuild Laos’ economy and improve social services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for vulnerable populations. DA Coleman announced new funding for early childhood and primary education and economic recovery support for women-led businesses. The United States builds on this U.S.-Lao Comprehensive Partnership to help Laos meet its development goals, maintain its economic sovereignty, and enhance its full integration into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the global economy. Following the Comprehensive Partnership in 2016, USAID placed two Foreign Service Officers in-country, expanding to three in 2020, and increased the annual budget from USD 6 million to more than USD 40 million. Areas of cooperation span from health and education to economic growth, rule of law, and governance.
Laos sits at the heart of mainland Southeast Asia, bordering Burma, Cambodia, China, Thailand, and Vietnam. The country has made progress toward building the institutions for a market economy and implementing important reforms that will help it graduate from Least Developed Country status in 2026. However, Laos’ potential for long-term, equitable economic growth is limited by its still developing education and health systems, challenging business enabling environment for attracting foreign investment, and government systems and staffing that are struggling to keep pace with Laos’ decentralization desires.
USAID partners with Laos to improve the climate for investment and trade, enhance the competitiveness of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, strengthen governance and the rule of law, improve energy sector growth and climate resilience, and advance health and education outcomes for Lao people. These efforts build human capital, encourage sustainable and inclusive development, spur market-driven growth, support economic independence and integration with ASEAN, and foster high-quality international investment.
USAID’s activities are aligned with the Government of Laos’ strategic priorities under its 9th National Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP), partnering with the government, civil society, and private sector stakeholders to drive sustainable and inclusive development.
ECONOMIC GROWTH AND TRADE
The Lao PDR has been one of the fastest-growing economies in the region, and expects strong recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. To bolster diversified, quality and inclusive economic growth, USAID works with the government and the private sector to improve the business enabling environment, and enhance the competitiveness of micro, small and medium enterprises. This will help strengthen Laos’ role in ASEAN and the World Trade Organization and will open the doors to foreign investment.
GOVERNANCE AND RULE OF LAW
USAID partners with Lao PDR to strengthen governance through enhancing institutional capacity, transparency and accountability, and rule of law and access to justice. USAID assistance helped the Ministry of Justice to more than triple the number of legal aid offices in the country. To counter trafficking-in-persons, USAID works to reduce the vulnerability of at-risk populations, including skills training for victims of trafficking and labor returnees during the COVID-19 pandemic. USAID also works to build the capacity and effectiveness of the legislative body to ensure citizens’ needs are met, and enhance overall accountability and transparency. USAID partners with the Government of Laos and development partners to strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of Laos’ national planning system, build government resilience against emerging shocks, support monitoring of socio-economic development planning and alignment with its 9th National Socio-Economic Development Plan and Sustainable Development Goals, and preparation for graduation from Least Developed Country status in 2026.
USAID partners with Laos to reclaim and accelerate public health progress needed to reverse health systems weakened by COVID-19 and build up defenses against infectious diseases and future pandemic threats. USAID works with the Government of Laos to improve the overall capacity from the national to sub-national and community levels. USAID strengthens the capacity and quality of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health and nutrition services, while providing vaccines and commodities to reinforce the health system. USAID also supports the One Health capacities that incorporate linkages between human, animal, and environmental health. Other key areas of USAID’s strategic support to Laos include, improving the quality of rehabilitation services to ensure their availability for people in need, particularly persons with disabilities, and fighting against HIV, malaria, and other infectious diseases. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to donating nearly 3 million life-saving vaccines, USAID assisted Lao PDR to improve the overall Lao health system across the country. Training doctors and nurses, tracking vaccines and monitoring outbreaks through improved information and communication technology, and strengthening cold chain capacity helped prepare Laos for future health crises. USAID assistance ensured that health workers were able to bring vaccines to the hardest to reach populations, including the elderly and people from ethnic communities.
Education is key to accelerating the success of all development efforts in Laos. USAID partners with Laos to strengthen the pre-primary and primary education systems, improving the reading skills of young students with a particular focus on non-Lao speaking children and children with disabilities. USAID’s higher education programming provides organizational capacity development to improve operations and research, promote innovation, and sustainability to universities and institutions in Laos. USAID works with book publishers to ensure that reading and learning materials for children include characters and aspects that depict diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, core USAID priorities that give Laos’ future leaders the skills needed to lead healthy, productive lives.
ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT AND GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE
USAID works with the Government of Laos, in collaboration with other countries in the region, to address climate change challenges and support the Government’s objective to achieve its target of 30 percent electric vehicles by 2030.
GENDER EQUALITY AND INCLUSIVE DEVELOPMENT
USAID integrates Gender Equality and Inclusive Development policies and practices across all activities, affirming that the inclusion of all people–regardless of gender, ethnicity, social status, or ability–are key to maximizing sustainable development outcomes. USAID supports the Lao government’s vision of a prosperous and peaceful Laos, whereby all people enjoy equal rights; have equitable access to quality social services; accumulate and control their own assets; exercise their own voice; and live free from violence.
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