Dec 20 2012

Healthcare in Laos

Published by at 2:35 pm under Practicalities


Laos has a rustic appeal to many travellers who enjoy getting away from the sealed and packaged amenities of the West. Unfortunately, our immune systems aren’t always up to the task and accidents can happen when trekking through the jungle or spelunking in slippery dark caves. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to your health while travelling in Laos.

Relief’s at hand.

Many vaccines are available before coming to Laos, and most all of them are recommended, except for Japanese B Encephalitis, which is extremely rare and basically unknown here. Rabies vaccines are an especially good idea for travellers going to rural areas. Malaria isn’t widespread and only a possibility in more rural areas. Dengue fever, however, affects a notable number of people all around the country and can only be prevented by avoiding infected mosquitoes, so do use mosquito repellent and sleep with a net, especially if visiting during the rainy season. Mosquito zapper racquets are highly effective and also have a certin entertainment value.

Stomach bugs tend to be the main culprit causing discomfort for travellers. It’s hard to avoid them entirely, but generally avoid undercooked meat and if you buy some fruit or veggies to nibble on, wash and peel them first.

Pharmacies are usually well stocked and don’t require a prescription, so if you know what medication you need the greatest challenge is usually communicating with the pharmacist. A few pharmacies in Vientiane have English-speaking staff, notably Poppy’s on Rue Hengboun, opposite Home Ideal. Several sizable pharmacies are near the Morning Market, up the road from the bus station, with staff who speak limited English but aim to be helpful. Lao pharmacists are very enthusiastic about antibiotics and will prescribe them even for a basic cold, so make sure you know what you actually need and what you’re getting.

Laos sources pharmaceuticals from a number of different countries, including Switzerland, Thailand, China and Vietnam. The Swiss medicine is preferable, and the Thai is good as well. Do be wary of the Vietnamese and especially the Chinese brands, as they aren’t always laboratory-grade products. Check the packaging carefully if the medication is for a more serious medical condition.

If you need to see a doctor, the French Medical Centre on the corner of Simueang and Khou Vieng Roads is Vientiane’s safest bet at 300,000 kip per visit. The centre provides a drop-in service, Monday to Friday, from 8:30-12:00 and 13:30-19:00, except on Wednesday when it closes at 17:00, plus it’s open on Saturdays from 09:00-12:00. The receptionists and doctors speak French and English.

The quality of their care can vary depending on the doctor; at the time of writing, Dr Cecile Hermann offers excellent medical service and is worth seeking out.

For more serious medical issues, you should go to Thailand. Expats and Laotians who can afford it don’t mess around with Lao hospitals and go to Thailand instead. Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai provides a high standard of medical care, as does Aek Udon in Udon Thani, although at higher prices than Wattana.

For dental work, likewise head to Thailand, which offers markedly high quality and affordable dental work, with procedures like wisdom tooth extraction and root canals costing under US$200 in some dental clinics, and excellent teeth-cleaning services costing around $30 USD. Lao dentists are rather unimpressive; avoid using them if possible.

For informational purposes.

Medical care in Laos is generally poor; parts of Laos are very remote and medical care limited. If you plan on going on a road trip or doing some serious outdoor sports, travel insurance is a very good idea. Most rural areas won’t respond to an insurance card though, so keeping a couple of $100 bills tucked away on your person to get help fast is a good safety measure. Laos is not a dangerous country, but its infrastructure for medical care is underdeveloped, so remember to have fun, but don’t forget where you are.

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Healthcare in Laos”

  1. Rachaelon 13 May 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Hello Ivana, my name is Rachael. I’m doing a school project on Laos and was wondering if I could ask you a few questions through email. Please contact me at rachaelbc@mssd14.org.

  2. ronfromlaoson 20 Jun 2013 at 8:55 am

    A lot of the information in this post is incorrect. Dr Jean Marie Hospied at the French Clinic is excellent and is a specialist in tropical medicine as well. I am amased that Ivana has not mentioned the Lao Viet hospital and clinic which is just opposite Hospital 103. The level of health care there is excellent and more and more people frequent that clinic. There is no need to run to Thailand.
    As well as this, Wattana has opened up a branch just off the road to the aiport near the Honda dealership.
    “Lao dentists are rather unimpressive; avoid using them if possible.”
    Absolute rubbish! There is an excellent dentist behind the Wind west nightclub. He is Canadian trained and has practiced in the US for 10 years. The dental surgery is no different to what you would find in a western country. There are a few other good dentists around as well.
    It is good to publish information about matters such as these; it is not good to publish incorrect information or errant nonsense. Please get your correspondent to properly inform herself.

  3. adminon 23 Jun 2013 at 3:46 am

    Hey ronfromlaos,

    Thanks for the tips — always good to have another opinion. I guess the need to run south of the border is down to individual comfort zones — we had another Travelfish researcher who was ill with a bad case of dengue last year in Laos and he felt more comfortable heading to Thailand. Could he have been treated in Laos ? I’m sure he could have – but he was more comfortable heading to Thailand and so that’s what he did. I’d say it would be fair to say the standard of general medical care in Laos is lower than that of Thailand.

    I wouldn’t characterise Ivana’s post as “errant nonsense” as it contains a good deal of useful advice, but thanks for your additions to it.

    Cheers

    Stuart

  4. Vientianeboyon 24 Jun 2013 at 2:03 am

    Actually Stuart, “Lao dentists are rather unimpressive” is not a sensible comment when there is a well known and popular Western style clinic in the middle of town, is it? Why suggets that expats go to Thailand when quality treatment is available here. I would suggest not enough research was done.

  5. Ivanaon 24 Jun 2013 at 10:55 am

    Dear Ron,

    I’ve hunted for a good dentist in Laos and been to several, as have many of my friends, and we’ve all had painful experiences with outdated technology. I’ve started going to Thailand instead, and have been so impressed with efficiency, professionalism and cost of the dental care, that I gladly recommend it to others. I’m thankful to learn that there is a clinic in Vientiane offering comparable care and I’m grateful that you’ve brought it to the attention to myself and our readers. I will modify the post when I have obtained the contact information for this place and hopefully save myself and others trips to Thailand in the future.

    Best Regards

    Ivana

  6. Vientianeboyon 25 Jun 2013 at 12:21 pm

    The one behind Wind West is not the only one; there is another good one opposite Rattana. Perhaps you should have asked Lee. I think even he knows where they are.

  7. Yahoo Seriouson 25 May 2014 at 2:30 am

    I think Ivana’s post is generally accurate. if you live in Vientiane there may be exceptions especially so since the post was made, the place listed are worth checking out but anywhere else in Laos go to thailand.

    My own last experience with a Lao hospital was observing a fresh steaming dog turd in the corner of hospital waiting room and cleaning staff pushing an overflowing rubbish cart thru the corridors with rubbish juice leaking through the bottom and leaving a disgusting liquid smell trail as a bonus.

    The Lao elite go to thailand for their medical care.

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