"Now that Thailand can guarantee healthcare for a vast number of our people, we are on our way to becoming the medical hub
of Asia. This year only, more that one million foreigners received our high-quality healthcare. Other countries in the region
might try to position themselves as healthcare hubs too, but we are different with our modern hospitals and good qualified
human resources (HR)" claimed Dr. Prat Boonyawongvirot, permanent secretary of the ministry of health (MOH).
Thailand might already have become a medical tourism destination but the country still needs to sort out serious issues on
its local market as the country healthcare system is largely underfunded, the country depends on imported drugs and APIs,
local companies are lagging behind in terms of manufacturing practices and international pharma companies have delocalized
their production to neighboring countries.
Universal Health Coverage scheme
The challenge for the self-proclaimed "Land of Smiles" is to manage the sensitive combination of international competitiveness
and social justice.
Courtesy of Pacific Healthcare (Thailand)
"The quality of healthcare is very satisfactory," says Dr. Prat. "Today, 47 million people are covered by the new 30-Baht
Scheme, the Social Security Scheme covers another 10 million and the rest of the population is covered by a civil servant
scheme. In our Kingdom, everybody is guaranteed access to healthcare."
The pioneering 30-Baht Scheme (also known as Universal Healthcare Coverage) Dr. Prat refers to was launched in 2001, covering
six provinces and all MOH hospitals. The idea of offering cost-subsidized healthcare at the point of delivery wooed millions
of low-income people. Eligible patients registered with hospitals closest to their homes and needed only to pay 30 baht (about
71 cents in US currency) for a hospital visit for treatment of all illnesses. Apart from guaranteeing healthcare to the lower
income group, the 30-Baht Scheme has enabled people who were not covered under any program to access necessary medical treatments.
Previously, a visit to the hospital required a fee of 200 baht (around $4.50) or more.
Dr. Prat Boonyawongvirort
The new government, appointed last fall following a bloodless military coup, has already declared that the 30-Baht Scheme
will be replaced by free medical treatment throughout the country. "Hospitals won't be richer or poorer whether or not they
receive 30 baht," said the new public health minister Mongkol Na Songkhla.
But there is across-the-industry fear that this could harm the already insufficiently funded healthcare programs, and together
with the price erosion put increasing cash flow pressure for the stakeholders.
GPO fulfilling the need of the Thai people
The first company to be hit could be the state owned Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO). GPO enjoys the benefits
of the government's former pharmaceutical market regulation and holds a near monopoly over the supply to the public sector.
(Under the old regulation, public hospitals were legally obliged to purchase 80 percent of their drugs from the GPO and only
20 percent from private organizations.) GPO plays a prominent role for locals as the producer of the simplest drugs like penicillin
and paracetamol and as the manufacturer of complex cocktails for the treatment of HIV and AIDS.
Lt. Gal. Mongkol Jivasantikarn
Today, the state-owned company produces more than 200 items, most of them medicines included in Thailand's essential drug
list. GPO also manufactures herbal medicines, biological products, and vaccines for diseases including Japanese encephalitis
(JE) and diphtheria-poliotetanus (DPT).
"GPO fulfilling the need of all Thai people. Therefore, we have to focus on producing generics by volume and we have to be
able to constantly increase capacity while maintaining quality. Our goal is to become the leading generic pharmaceutical manufacturer
in Thailand and the near region in producing medicines of standard quality at reasonable prices," claimed Lieutenant General
Mongkol Jivasantikarn, GPO's managing director.