Laos Reviews 39 Years of Remarkable Progress

Political stability, security, social order and economic growth, all of which have been successfully maintained, have been the outstanding achievements of the Lao government and people under the guidance of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party over the past year.

Party and government leaders, and representatives of the diplomatic corps and international organisations, all cited these highlights in the speeches they made to mark the 39th anniversary of the founding of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

A ceremony to accept the good wishes of the diplomatic corps and international organisations took place at the Presidential Palace on Monday.

“We are delighted to witness that Laos continues to enjoy firm political stability, security and social order, and has achieved a relatively high GDP growth rate of 7.5 percent compared to 2013,” President Choummaly said.

President Choummaly also highlighted the achievements made in the areas of education, social and cultural development, and the overall well-being of the people, which he said has also improved.

In addition, he noted that the current GDP per capita has reached US$1,692, while poverty reduction efforts have reduced the percentage of poor households to 8.11 percent.

“All this has laid a solid foundation for us to continue realising the objectives of the current Seventh Five-Year Plan in its final stage,” he said.

On behalf of the Party, government, and Lao people of all ethnicities, President Choummaly thanked the diplomatic corps and representatives of international organisations, the government and people of their respective countries and heads of organisations for the continued support and assistance rendered to Laos over the past years.

Malaysian Ambassador to Laos and Dean of the diplomatic corps, Laos Dato’ Than Tai Hing, made special mention of Laos’ economic growth, saying it is considered to be highest in the region in terms of GDP growth, and faster than the average growth rate of developing Asian countries.

He also emphasised the government’s success in maintaining political stability, security and social order, ensuring that Lao people of all ethnic groups can enjoy their legitimate rights and freedom and actively participate in national development.

Dato’ Than Tai Hing represented other members of the diplomatic corps in expressing their confidence that Laos, as a least developed and landlocked country, through the wise guidance of its leaders, will realise its ambition to transform the country into a hub of connectivity.

This will enable integration of the economy with those of neighbouring countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion and the world.

Referring to the efforts of the Lao government and people to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and graduate from Least Developed Country status, the ambassador also expressed his confidence that Laos would graduate from that status by 2020.

The ambassador also underlined the success of Laos in terms of its pragmatic foreign policy, which has accelerated diplomatic relations with its neighbours and the international community.

This was underscored by the increase in the number of countries with which Laos has diplomatic relations, which has now reached 136.


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Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union’s Secretary’s Cup tournament underway

July 1, 2013

INTRO: More than 70 amateur badminton players from clubs and ministries across Vientiane are battling it out in the Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union’s Secretary’s Cup tournament.

STORY: The union held an opening ceremony for the mixed doubles event on Wednesday at their indoor stadium in Vientiane, attended by Union Secretary General, Dr Vilayvong Boutdhakham, senior officials and key sponsors.

Those in the top three places at the end of the tournament can look forward to cash prizes and trophies.

Youth Union Deputy Secretary General, Dr. Sonethanou Thammavong, said the group wanted to encourage young people to play sport for friendship, good health and to promote an anti-drug message.

Last week, the union held a similar national-level petanque event in Vientiane.

The events offer a chance to develop younger players into national or regional level athletes, and are an opportunity to prepare for the 10th National Games in Oudomxay province next year.

Each year, the youth union holds a number of sporting events for young people in Vientiane.


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Laos, Cuba hold talks on bilateral ties

Lao leaders and the visiting Vice President of Cuba’s Council of State have reaffirmed both sides will work together to deepen the traditionally friendly relations and cooperation between Laos and Cuba.

The Lao leaders told Mr Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, 53, that the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) and the government will continue to nurture close bilateral relations and cooperation with Cuba.

Mr Bermudez, who is also First Vice President of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba and a politburo member of the Communist Party of Cuba, arrived in Vientiane yesterday for a two-day official visit to Laos. His visit was made in response to an invitation from Lao Vice President and politburo member, Mr Bounnhang Vorachit.

Following an official welcoming ceremony on Saturday at the Presidential Office, Mr Bermudez and the Lao vice president held talks on bilateral ties. Mr Bermudez also paid a courtesy visit to President Choummaly Sayasone and called on Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong.

“At the talks, the Lao leaders reaffirmed the consistent guidelines of the Lao Party and government to enhance the traditional friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries,” a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The Lao leaders expressed their heartfelt thanks to the government, people and Communist Party of Cuba (CPC), for the valuable support and assistance they extended to the struggle for liberation in Laos and the current effort for national development and defence.

For his part, Mr Bermudez reaffirmed the guidelines of the government and Communist Party of Cuba to continue deepening the traditional friendly relations and cooperation between the two parties, governments and peoples.

He pledged that Cuba will continue to assist Laos in relation to human resource development and provide assistance in the health and sports sectors, according to the press release.

At the talks, both sides informed each other about the socio-economic situations in their respective countries, reviewed past collaboration and discussed future cooperation in addition to exchanging views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.

On this occasion, Mr Bermudez conveyed the invitation from the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba’s Central Committee, Mr Raúl Castro to President Choummaly, who is also Secretary General of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, to pay an official visit to Cuba at some point in the future.

Mr Castro is also President of the Council of State and the President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba.

The Lao Foreign Ministry described the official visit of Mr Bermudez to Laos as ‘one of the important events in Laos-Cuba relations,’ developing the traditionally friendly relations between the two countries and peoples to ‘a new height’ for the mutual benefit of both parties.

The Cuban delegation also toured various cultural attractions in Vientiane and met with local diplomatic staff before departing Laos for Cuba yesterday.


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Laos: Improving lives by clearing UXOs in Sekong Province

April 4, 2013

Since 2007, CARE with support from AusAID and other partners has worked with over 2,500 families from 19 villages in Sekong Province to improve their livelihoods by reducing the impact of unexploded ordnance (UXO).

To date over 97ha of land has been cleared of UXOs, allowing families to expand their rice fields, and use the land to grow new crops such as coffee, or try new income-generating activities such as fish farming.

Lao PDR is the most bombed country in the world per capita. More than two million tons of ordnance was dropped on the country during the Second Indochina War. Up to 30 per cent of some types of ordnance did not detonate.


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Officials vow to make real progress towards MDGs

April 5, 2013

Lao and overseas officials have vowed to compile a report that reflects the true progress of Laos towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The officials made this commitment during a second workshop held yesterday in Vientiane to discuss the draft of the third report on the progress made towards the landmark development goals.

“I wish you well in generating a good report which reflects the reality of our situation, foresees and agrees on the challenges and figures, and how much achievement has been recorded so far,” Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alounkeo Kittikhoun said in his opening remarks at the meeting.

Mr Alounkeo highlighted Laos’ achievements in striving for MDG No. 1 which concerns poverty reduction. He said the percentage of people living below the national poverty line has dropped from 48 percent in 1990 to 22 percent at present.

But despite this figure having been halved, the problem persists and there is no easy solution, he said. The same is true of malnutrition, which is a big challenge and is not just about health but involves awareness, healthy eating, breastfeeding, education and issues surrounding stunted growth.

He praised the cooperation between the Lao government, UN agencies and development partners who help to find solutions to ensure better coordination on nutrition. At the same time he called on line ministries and UN agencies to agree on figures during the workshop as a basis for continuing the good work towards realising the goals.

Regarding MDG No. 7 which relates to environmental sustainability, Mr Alounkeo said land use management had been effective in certain areas but not in others.

“We should not deny that mistakes have been made and we welcome all the comments of our friends, and on that basis we will always try to improve,” he added.

Mr Alounkeo also referred to Laos’ special goal – MDG No. 9 – the clearance of unexploded ordnance. UXO is a great obstacle to development efforts as all 17 provinces in the country are contaminated with these remnants of war.

UN Resident Coordinator Minh Pham said that, despite the brighter picture, progress had not essentially been made on the situation presented at the Round Table Implementation Meeting last November. However, some detailed and supportive indicators have changed and the availability of new data such as the labour force survey did not reveal differences with ongoing administrative data.

He noted that some of the new data from the survey confirms the continuing progress shown by the administrative data such as in education, while other data also showed that progress was not as much as had been assumed.

“Some data may also show that the disparity between different social economic groups could be greater than we have assumed. I would suggest that we welcome all new data even if these will conflict with previous assumptions,” Mr Pham said.


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Laos makes substantial progress in human development: NERI Report

March 22, 2013

Laos has made substantial progress in its human development over the past almost three decades, making the country one of the human development index (HDI) growth leaders in the medium human development category, a report issued yesterday revealed.

The significant gains made in economic growth and social welfare over recent years have paved the way for continued improvement in human development in Laos, according to the global 2013 Human Development Report revealed at yesterday’s launching ceremony in Vientiane.

Between 1985 and 2012, substantial progress has been made in the main HDI indicators. Life expectancy increased by 19 years, the average number of years of schooling increased by 2.5, and Gross National Income per capita increased by about 178 percent.

“Consequently, Laos has seen steady improvement in its HDI value over time, making the country one of the HDI growth leaders in the medium human development category, where it currently sits,” the report said.

The National Economic Research Institute organised the launch of the report entitled “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World”, sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Overall, the HDI of Laos stood at 0.543 in the 2012 Human Development Report which positioned the country at 138 out of 187 countries and territories in the world. However, when discounted for inequality, the HDI value for Laos falls to 0.409, a loss of about 25 percent.

“Our analysis confirms a message found in every Human Development Report: economic growth does not automatically translate into human development. Significant investments in people, in education and skills as well as in nutrition and health, are vital,” said UNDP Resident Representative Mr Minh Pham.

The report examines the fast-changing world and the implications for human development at the global level.

The report projects that by 2030, more than 80 percent of the world’s middle class will reside in the South, and that the Asia-Pacific region will be home to about two-thirds of the new global middle class.

By 2020, the report projects, the combined output of the three leading economies – China, India, Brazil – will surpass the aggregate production of the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada.

The 2013 report identifies more than 40 developing countries with human development gains that significantly outpaced global norms in recent decades.

However, it warns that failure to address persistent inequalities, and a lack of opportunities for meaningful civic participation, could threaten this progress unless leaders take bold corrective actions. Environmental inaction, especially regarding climate change, has the potential to halt or even reverse human development progress in the world’s poorest countries and communities.

Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment, Dr Bounthavy Sisouphanthong, believes the report contains valuable information about the nature of and challenges for human development that will be an important reference for all parties involved in development planning and policy making.

The HDI is calculated by taking into account the combined indicators of life expectancy, education and income. It covers both social and economic development.

The global Human Development Reports are published annually with National Human Development Reports produced every four years. Since 1998, Laos has published four national reports.

The next one is due in 2014 and will focus on achieving the MDGs as a vital element of both Least Developed Country graduation and in reducing inequalities and vulnerabilities across communities in all regions of the country.


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Laos, Vietnam strengthen health sector cooperation

By Xayxana Leukai
March 15, 2013

The Ministries of Health of Laos and Vietnam signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in Vientiane yesterday on strengthening their cooperation in the health sector.

The MOU was signed by Lao Health Minister Prof. Dr Eksavang Vongvichit and Vietnam’s Minister of Health Associate Prof. Dr Nguyen Thi Kim Tien.

The MOU aims to further strengthen the existing traditional friendship and cooperation between Laos and Vietnam in the field of health, for the mutual benefit of both countries.

Under the agreement, the two ministries will organise exchange visits by medical professionals as well as health workers and students through study visits and short- and long-term trainings. These will target the development of scientific programmes and research projects, while encouraging business cooperation and investment in health, including the production of pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and vaccines.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Health will continue to perform clinical activities for Lao citizens under the current agreement and the provisions of the Vietnamese government. The ministry will also continue to send experienced medical professionals to Laos to provide technical and medical professional support for Lao health staff at the request of the Lao Ministry of Health. Both parties recognise the legitimacy of medical and pharmacy practice certificates, medical examinations and treatment licences.

From 2012-2020, medical and pharmaceutical institutions in Vietnam will continue their cooperation and support for Laos in training health workers at all levels.

The two parties will strengthen their cooperation in health promotion, epidemic prevention, technical support for cross-border disease control, food safety, maternal and child health, nutrition, health communication and education. They will also boost international cooperation on HIV/AIDS prevention across their shared border, especially among mobile populations and communities.

The two ministries will continue to implement agreed activities under the Border Health Quarantine Agreement signed between Laos and Vietnam in 2001.

Laos and Vietnam will enhance exchanges of information and cooperation in the fields of training, scientific research and professional exchange in non-communicable disease control, and towards creating a healthy environment in schools.

In addition, the two ministries will strengthen their cooperation in drug testing, drug quality control, counterfeit drugs, food safety and traditional medicine.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Health will provide treatment for senior officials of the Lao Ministry of Health at hospitals in Vietnam.

In addition, Vietnam will receive Lao delegations undertaking study visits, research and experience exchange in the areas of hospital management, hospital financial management, public health management, medical inspection, planning and international cooperation.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Health will also continue to assist with training and technology transfer for medical staff in Laos in the form of bilateral cooperation between the two ministries’ health facilities. This will take place in the fields of surgery, anaethesiology, emergency treatement, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, drug tests, dentistry and other professional fields.


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Medics review progress in reducing deaths of newborns

By Xayxana Leukai
March 1, 2013

Doctors and nurses providing a baci ceremony at the at Kasi Clinic, Laos.

Paediatricians from across the country met in Vientiane yesterday to discuss improvements to child healthcare and the treatment of paediatric diseases, aiming to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing the death rate of mothers and children by 2015.

President of the Lao Paediatrics Association and Director General of Setthathirath Hospital, Associate Professor Dr Khampe Phongsavath, said paediatricians play a very important role in improving the health of mothers and their children.

“Improving the skills of existing paediatricians as well as training new ones is something that should be continued and strongly encouraged,” Dr Khampe said at the opening ceremony of the 9th Conference on Lao Paediatrics.

He advised all paediatricians to refresh their skills so they can provide effective services in the years to come. Their work would not only help the government to achieve MDG 1 on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and MDG 4 on reducing child mortality, but would also support the government’s ‘Sam Sang’ (‘Three Builds’) policy by strengthening resources in local communities.

On behalf of the Ministry of Health, the President of the University of Health Sciences, Dr Somchith Boupha, said paediatricians are important for helping all children to enjoy good health. “As you know children are the future and a valuable asset of any nation. If children grow healthily and get a good education, a country has a strong resource for national development,” she said, adding that by contrast, if children grow up unhealthily and have a poor education, this may slow the development of a country.

The government considers the reduction of child mortality to be a top priority and is putting measures in place to achieve the target set in the UN MDGs by 2015 and remove Laos from the list of least developed countries by 2020.

Director General of Education and Science Research, Associate Prof. Sing Menorath; Deputy Director General of the Curative Medicines Department, Associate Prof. Dr Bounnack Saysanasongkham; Thai representatives from the World Health Organisation and other personnel also attended the two-day meeting.


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Health network covers 98% in Lao PDR

January 30, 2013

Health Minister Prof. Dr. Eksavang Vongvichit

Health network is now covered by 98% thanks to Ministry of Health implementing a health reform policy assigned by National Assembly, Health Minister Prof. Dr. Eksavang Vongvichit said yesterday.

Over the past year, Ministry of Health paid close attention to the materialization and implementation of the “Sam Sang” resolution of the 9th Party congress, or three builds, and the seventh-year socio-economic plan (2011-2015)/ As a result, the health sector have received consistent achievements.

The annual report has disclosed the quality of health service of each hospital and also dispensaries nationwide have been improved, amounting to 894 dispensaries, 130 district hospitals, 16 provincial hospitals and five main hospitals.

The private clinics have also expanded to 1,164. and private hospitals and medical centres have a total amount of 16. The traditional medicine treatment was also promoted over the past year.

He added that the last year, the ministry proactively implemented UN MDG, which advanced many sectors, such as control of communicable disease, like AIDS, TB, and Malaria, reduction of child mortality rate, and the expansion of clean water and latrine in grass root levels. Now the Ministry of Health has over 14,000 employees who have worked nationwide.

Next year’s plan, Prof. Dr. Eksavang stressed on further materializing and implementing the resolution of the 9th Party congress, that is “to make Lao citizens healthy under the implementation of health policy in line with a direction on disease prevention, prime health promotion and holding quality treatment and supply of health service nationwide, as well as implementation of a free of charge treatment for the poor and underprivileged people.”

The next plan will also focus on implementation of health strategy to be achieved by 100%, based on MDG by expanding health network access to 64 local and rural areas by equipping them with village medical staff, midwife, village medical kits, safe water supply, and latrine aiming at creating health model villages. Under the plan, the ministry will focus on improving treatment standard equaling to international standards.


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Before and After in Laos: The challenge of providing health services to the poor

By Lukas Messmer
January 19, 2013

Mr Virasak shows the pink card which qualifies poor families for free health care.

Behind the Xekong Provincial Hospital Mrs Kavi is resting on a bamboo bed inside a wooden maternity home. The air is hot and smoky. A fire is burning beneath her bed. This is the traditional way after giving birth to a child.

At 44 years of age and already having given birth to nine other children, Mrs Kavi is a high-risk patient. It’s her first birth in a hospital. One time she gave birth in a rice paddy – the child died.

“It’s very nice here and I don’t have pay anything,” she says. Feeling comfortable, she starts to breastfeed her newborn son, who is just two days old. “He doesn’t have a name yet,” she says, appearing quite contented.

Mrs Kavi is one of many villagers to benefit from a national policy of the Ministry of Health (MOH) called “Free Mother and Neonatal Child Health” (MNCH). It offers free health care for pregnant women and children under five.

Another official MOH policy is the “Health Equity Funds” (HEF), which provide the whole range of health services in public facilities to poor people free of charge. Both work in the same way – the equity funds cover the costs of medical treatment, transport and provide a food allowance for patients who could not afford it otherwise.

Overall, Health Equity Funds for the poor are now set up in 98 districts throughout the country. Nowadays, over 700,000 poor people can benefit from this valuable social protection scheme, while the Free MNCH policy is being progressively rolled out around the country. Both will be part of the National Health Insurance Agency, through which the government aims to harmonise different insurance policies in the near future.

“The goal is to improve access to health services and to prevent catastrophic health expenditure,” says Jean-Marc Thomé, country delegate from the Swiss Red Cross in Laos and a technical advisor to the Ministry of Health. While in western countries a lot of people see a doctor too often, here in Laos most poor people delay seeking proper treatment because of their dire financial situation.

When they get seriously ill, the cost of treatment is often far too high for them to afford on their meagre cash incomes. It is well-known that health problems are often a major factor driving many families further into impoverishment (the so-called “medical poverty trap”).

To see how the HEFs and Free MNCH schemes work in practice, the two southern provinces of Xekong and Saravan are a good place to visit. In Xekong, 42 percent of the 100,000 or so population are poor. Over 95 percent belong to ethnic groups that speak their own languages, often living in remote, mountainous areas with no road access during the rainy season – like the districts of Kaleum and Dakcheung. Here, the MOH entered into a partnership with the Lao and Swiss Red Cross to implement these social health protection schemes.

The person managing the HEF and MNCH schemes down south is Virasak Phetpasak, who is the regional coordinator for Xekong and Saravan provinces. Originally from Savannakhet, he occasionally moans about the pleasures one can enjoy in his hometown which he misses out on in the quiet town of Meuang Lamam, the capital of Xekong province.

But he works with conviction though. “I can contribute to assisting the poor,” he states emphatically. Mr Virasak has the aura of a businessman. He’s tall, constantly talking on his two mobile phones, advising his staff back in Xekong and arranging various appointments. “Management”, he says again and again, if asked about the complications of his job.

Indeed, the HEF and MNCH focus heavily on administration, reporting, monitoring and auditing. In the office in Meuang Lamam, his staff are meticulously checking every payment, every bill and all reports from provincial and district hospitals and health centres.

The lists stack up on the desks: 10,000 kip here, 20,000 kip there. To ensure effective service provision and to avoid ghost patients appearing, several promotion and monitoring officers randomly select and visit treated patients in their home and interview them about their hospitalisation. Here, in the office, the system looks simple and efficient. The work in the field, however, is another story altogether.

One obstacle is to get the information and understanding about free treatment out there in the communities. If villagers don’t know that they will be treated for free, they won’t come to the hospital. The fact that there is free access to health services has been promoted through radio broadcasts and information leaflets in Lao and other ethnic languages.

M r Virasak also has some ideas for the future. He plans to equip his promotion officers with battery-driven loudspeakers. “We’ll record an advertisement about the Health Equity Funds and Free MNCH in every ethnic language in the target areas and put music to it,” he says, “so that our staff can simply play the files from their mobile phones.”

Another issue is the eligibility. “Poor” is a simple word. It basically means not having enough of something. But from here on it gets difficult: Not having what? Money? Food? A metal roof? Cattle?

Here, in very remote areas where poverty is widespread, everyone is eligible for the benefits of the HEF. In other areas though, district and HEF officers ride their motorbikes from village to village, and interview the people at length about their daily life with village committees.

Results are validated by district committees and HEF cards are delivered to the households determined as poor. With these HEF cards, their holders have the right to be treated for free in all public health facilities.

Since 2009, in the nine districts of the four southern provinces, the free of charge services included 200,000 consultations, 18,000 admissions, 5,000 deliveries and 700 main surgeries. The value of benefits going directly to poor people, mothers and young children reached over 11 billion kip (US$1.4 million).

The funds were provided by the Health Services Improvement Project of the Ministry of Health and the Swiss Red Cross. Not only the patients, but also the health facilities benefit from this policy.

With more people seeing a doctor, they notice a significant increase in revenue that enables them to improve both the quality of services and the working conditions of the staff.

The story of Mr Chouysamone and his family is a fine example of the HEF’s purpose. The 57-year-old is sitting on the edge of a white plank bed in Taoy district hospital in Saravan province, wearing a camouflage jacket and a baseball hat.

Behind his back, his wife, Mrs Yasamone, 45, lies in pain with a drip attached to her arm. At her feet, their daughter Pau, 13, silently waits in a pink dress. The girl is the second youngest of 11 children. They are Katang people.

Cheerfully her father explains that he does not plan to foster any more children: “I can’t,” he says and smiles broadly, revealing his black teeth. Despite her serious stomach pains, his wife looks somehow relieved.

While waiting for a diagnosis, the family does not have to worry about the ensuing costs. It was the chief of the village who told Mr Chouysamone that and a truck brought them here on the just recently finished road.

Five years ago, there were no Health Equity Funds in Taoy district, Saravan province. Being from Ban Soytam, where there was no road, Mr Chouysamone had to walk some 50 kilometres over mountainous terrain. Luckily, the treatment was cheap. His family only earns a few thousand kip per day if they are lucky. After treatment, he walked another 50 kilometres back home again.

Thanks to the Health Equity Funds, these kinds of financial barriers have been taken away. He will be reimbursed for the treatment and transport costs and instead, of worrying about money, he can take care of his family now.

Lukas Messmer is a Swiss journalist doing an internship at the Vientiane Times.


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