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Lao People's Democratic Republic
  1. Farrah J Mateen
  1. Correspondence to Dr F J Mateen, Fellow, Departments of International Health and Neurology, The Johns Hopkins University, 615 N Wolfe Street, Room 8527E, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA; fmateen{at}jhsph.edu

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Any important celebration of medical doctors in Laos begins with the medical director and the assistant director singing a favourite song at the microphone. I was warned; when visiting Laos, it's always good to have a couple of numbers up your sleeve. I was privy to the recent graduation ceremony of nine internal medicine residents in the country's capital, Vientiane. It was a grand occasion with spicy minced meats, traditional Lao dancing, karaoke music and a high percentage of the country's skilled medical personnel in a single room.

Statue at the national monument Pha Chedi Lokajulamani (‘World-precious sacred Stupa’).

Laos has only one fully trained neurologist and nearly 6 million inhabitants. To remark that there is a shortage of neurologists here is beyond obvious. This land of clandestine war, dinosaur fossils, embroidered silks and golden stupas is tropical and ancient. Neurological care is, by comparison, very new. Knowledge of common neurological disorders among both the Lao people and medical trainees is only beginning to be formalised.

Laos remains one of the poorest countries in southeast Asia. It ranks as a least developed country, landlocked by Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma and China. On health indicators, it often fares worse than its neighbours. Laos still reports cholera, neonatal tetanus, measles and leprosy, and is heavily burdened by malaria, tuberculosis and dengue fever.1 …

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