If nature abhors a vacuum, so in a way does disease. A common vehicle for viruses and infections to get from where they are to where they are not is the movement of people—the kind that occurs ever more frequently each year across the world’s borders and time zones.

This has posed a challenge for the countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). As travel, trade, and traffic between them has grown, the people in their frontier regions and along GMS transport corridors have been exposed to higher risks of communicable disease, including elevated threats of HIV/AIDS.

ADB’s $5 million ADF-financed Greater Mekong Subregion Capacity Building for HIV/AIDS Prevention Project recognized a particularly tricky aspect of this regional HIV prevention issue. While its neighbors had fairly high rates of HIV, the Lao PDR presented a comparative vacuum. As of 2013, prevalence in its adult population was relatively low.

The project helped the governments of the Lao PDR and Viet Nam do better in reaching and helping highrisk and vulnerable people in the border region GMS economic corridors. HIV program planning and management was supported, patient services expanded and improved, voluntary counseling and treatment provided by target district health facilities, and outreach conducted to change behaviors. Antiretroviral treatment was also dispensed, and mothers were informed how to prevent the transmission of HIV to their children.

A review under the ADF project of the Lao PDR’s national HIV strategy, policies, and legislation helped develop and update national guidelines and standard procedures for HIV prevention.

Services targeted the sectors of the population most at risk. Provincial, district, and village health staff were trained in prevention, care, and treatment. The 56 mobile clinics set up in 8 target provinces provided counseling and testing and helped workers scale up outreach and condom distribution in vulnerable districts.

Survey results in 2017 and when the project ended in 2018 showed target groups to have reduced their risky behaviors. Most importantly, the Lao PDR remains, if only comparatively for its subregion, an HIV vacuum, with an adult prevalence rate of only 0.3%.

Learn more about the Asian Development Fund (ADF).

This article was originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.