Although the World Health Organization has claimed Thailand of having “a long and successful history of health development,” the country is barely straggling along to maintain the current level of comprehensive care.
Thailand was under a healthcare crisis before the implementation of the universal healthcare system. People were not given complete health care protection under the former policies. A social welfare scheme providing free healthcare services was available to the poor in 1975. But during 1982 – 1986, the capital investment in urban hospitals was suspended.
In 2000, 25% of Thai people did not have insurance to cover medical expenses. Resulting in 20% of the poorest families falling into poverty because of healthcare expenditure. There were also more than 17000 children who died below the age of 5. In response to this serious issue, the government approved a health initiative in which Thai citizens can consult doctors for 30 baht. But the quality of service in many clinics and hospitals were worsened because of the fees.
The Ministry of Public Health is responsible for health and medical care in Thailand. It introduced the Universal Coverage Scheme in 2002. The scheme was rapidly implemented in all provinces by the end of the year. This made outpatient and inpatient emergency care widely available to all people. The government paid for the hospitals and monatrailly incentivized medical professionals to work in unpopular/ rural areas. Efforts to educate young individuals regarding birth control, protection from AIDS, and achieving low maternal mortality was also apart of the plan to create a solid healthcare infrastructure.
The healthcare system now has versatile coverage, lowers the out of pocket cost and helps families gain access to more services. For example, the scheme has covered 98% of the Thai population in 2011. It is so beneficial because it relieves families’ financial burden, reduces workers’ sick days and infant mortality.
Furthermore, the quality of healthcare and low treatment costs has transformed Thailand into a popular destination for medical tourism for many years. It is interesting that some tourist serving hospitals look more like hotels rather than a medical building.
It seems that the universal healthcare system is doing well in the country, but there may be a minor systematic failing falling into place. There are only over 50000 doctors in the country and over half of them are in Bangkok. This unequal distribution of doctors indicates the hospitals in rural areas are overcrowded. Long queues are common in public hospitals. The standard ratio of doctor per population is 1 doctor to 1500 people. But the lack of professionally trained doctors has driven the ratio up to 7000 people in the rural areas. Some doctors and medical staff are overworked. As a result, they become the ones who may also suffer from poor health.
It is very important for a country to look after their people’s health. Hopefully, the Thai government will be able to keep up with the good work and review policies of the healthcare system from time to time in order to ensure future success.