Most of the news in Thailand centers around the death of their king, so I’m including a number of articles about the king’s reign. I find it interesting, especially historically, and hope you don’t mind.
Healthy legacy of the caring King
Throughout his 70-year reign, HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej was a quiet, yet crucial driving force behind the huge leaps that Thailand made in its development of healthcare and medicine.
In the early years, the country had few hospitals, with many people in rural areas having no access to proper medical services. Even in larger towns, advanced medical treatment was scarcely available.
In the later years of His Majesty’s reign, however, the situation had been completely transformed, with Thailand recognized around the world as a medical hub.
With his father a doctor and his mother a nurse by training, His Majesty always demonstrated a keen interest and insight about the healthcare sector. In hindsight, it is clear that His Majesty placed an emphasis on not just quality of services but also equality.
Soon after the King took the throne, he engaged in royal activities supporting the advancement of medicine and public health, with the aim of treating all Thais equally while aiding the country’s development.
Pornchai Matangkasombut, a former president of Mahidol University, said during a previous exhibition of His Majesty’s contributions to the realm of medicine that the King was determined to continue the work of his father, Prince Mahidol of Songkla, who is recognized by Thais as “The Father of Modern Medicine and Public Health of Thailand”, and his mother Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, who is considered Thailand’s “Mother of Social Welfare”.
The King once stated his personal goal that “all Thais must have the opportunity to access the best medical treatments and disease prevention so they could be all healthy,” Pornchai cited, adding that the King had contributed to Thai medicine all along.
In the first year of his reign, His Majesty set up a royal medical team to follow him on his constant visits to every region of the country – particularly in remote and underdeveloped rural areas – to provide mobile medical treatment to local people.
The King also saw to it that hospitals were built and scholarships granted to poor students to study medicine. He founded and personally funded the Ananda Mahidol Scholarship for excellent academic and good moral students to study at the world’s leading institutes so they could bring back knowledge to help Thailand’s development, Pornchai said.
The scholarships were initially available only to medical students but were later extended to students in various other fields. This scholarship program was special as it had no written contracts between the grantor and the recipients, as the King had stated, “if the committee selected good persons, there was no need for contracts”.
The scholarships were regarded as “a heartfelt promise” that made the awarded students feel thankful for the King’s kindness. On their return, they would apply their knowledge for the benefit of the country.
As a patron of the Thai Red Cross Society since his coronation in 1946, His Majesty worked hard helping people in various times of health crisis. In 1950, when the country suffered from an outbreak of tuberculosis (TB), His Majesty donated money from his personal assets for the construction of Mahidol Wongsanusorn Building for medical purposes, including the development of domestically produced BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) vaccines. The vaccines were effective in protecting Thais against TB, and the UNICEF’s welfare organization for mothers and children also bought them for use in other Asian countries.
His Majesty consulted with Luang Payung Vejasart, then director-general of the Department of Public Health, that year and was quoted as saying: “Director-General, these days can tuberculosis be cured yet? Do we lack any medicines? If needed, I will provide you with them. I would like to see the country’s medical affairs progress.”
In 1955, when polio was a health threat for Thai people, His Majesty set up the Polio Songkroh Fund and had the Or Sor Radio Station at Dusit Palace invite members of the public to donate money for building projects and equipment, including the “iron lung” for Siriraj Hospital and Phra Mongkutklao Hospital.
In 1958, when the country was hit by a cholera epidemic leading to hundreds of deaths, His Majesty granted his personal fund to the development of vaccine and the production of good-quality saline.
His Majesty also had the royal medical team provide mobile medical treatment on the Thai Red Cross’s Vejapaha barge, dubbed the world’s first medical boat, for the people residing along riverbanks. The service is still in operation.
In 1958, when the country was hit by a cholera epidemic leading to hundreds of deaths, His Majesty granted his personal fund to the development of vaccine and the production of good-quality saline, as well as setting up the Anti-Cholera Fund, for which he also provided the seeding donation.
He also granted funding for the purchase of equipment for cholera research until Thai health officials, collaborating with US Army officers at the time, were able to identify the cause of the outbreak in three months.
Thanks to His Majesty’s urgent aid and all agencies’ collaboration, the outbreak was brought to an end in 17 months. During the time, His Majesty also allowed members of the public to send in song requests for His Majesty to play the saxophone to raise donations for the cause.
His Majesty also initiated the production of the “Private Royal Films”, with the aim of raising donations for medical developments such as the construction of Siriraj Hospital’s Ananda Mahidol Building, Somdet Chaopraya Psychiatry Hospital’s Rajasathit Building, the Thai Red Cross Compound’s Vajiralongkorn Building and Bhumibol Hospital’s Medical Building, as well as Raj PrachaSamasai Institute for Leprosy Patients.
In 1955, leprosy was a raging threat in Thailand. The Public Health Ministry, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, came up with a plan to control the disease in 12 years. His Majesty moved quickly in the hope of making sure that the disease was controlled faster, within eight years.
His Majesty initiated royal projects such as the Raj PrachaSamasai Institute for Leprosy to treat and rehabilitate leprosy patients, as well as giving them occupational training. The royal care also extended to their children, who had difficulty studying at general schools where other students were worried about becoming infected. So a school was set up for the children of leprosy patients.
From his visits to rural areas and the royal medical team being in high demand by villagers, His Majesty also instructed more medical units and projects to be set up. They included a project that would see public-sector doctors taking turns to provide medical services in remote areas and a “Mor Muban” (village doctor) project that trained literate volunteers to provide first aid and basic ailment remedies, and to arrange referral of serious cases to hospitals.
In fact, since taking the throne, His Majesty recognized the need for the country to produce more medical workers. During a degree-conferral ceremony for graduates from Siriraj, Thailand’s only medical and nursing school back then, His Majesty expressed the wish to produce more medical staff. In response to His Majesty’s initiative, the government approved the budget to set up a new medical school at the Chulalongkorn Hospital.
His Majesty said that, since poor rural people could not leave their farms to visit the city, dentists should occasionally visit their areas to provide treatment.
His Majesty’s dentist, Than Phuying Phetchara Techakamphuch, who is also director of the royal dentistry unit, gave a speech once recalling that, after she treated His Majesty in 1970, he asked if people in rural areas would have dentists to take care of them.
Learning that it was unlikely and some provinces such as Mae Hong Son didn’t even have a dentist in each district, His Majesty said that, since poor rural people could not leave their farms to visit the city, dentists should occasionally visit their areas to provide treatment.
His remark was the beginning of the country’s mobile dentistry service, she said. His Majesty provided a fully equipped mobile dental clinic unit, along with a driver and an assistant, and asked for two volunteers from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Dentistry to service rural areas. The vehicle was anointed by the King himself in April 1970 at Klai Kangwon Palace in Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Hua Hin district before it made the first trip to treat people in Thap Sakae district, she recalled.
The dental services would be provided periodically all year round except for the rainy season and would visit one district a day, she said. From the first phase of providing simple tooth removal services and dental hygiene information to the rural people, the unit, boosted by an increase in volunteers, can now carry out more complicated procedures such as those performed at large hospitals, she said.
Foreign dentists also joined in the volunteer work, as the unit became the largest of its kind in the world – with all the expenses covered by His Majesty the King.
As His Majesty worked hard for the good health of his people, international health organizations presented him with numerous prestigious awards including:
-The Health-for-All Gold Medal, presented to His Majesty in 1992 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the achievement of the social goal of health for all.
-The Partnering for World Health Award, presented to His Majesty in 1996, by the American College of Chest Physicians, in recognition of his efforts to promote the prevention and cure of chest diseases in Thailand and his devotion for the good health and well-being of all citizens.
- The ICCIDD Gold Medal, presented to His Majesty in 1997, by the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD) in recognition of his leadership, guidance and direction to the National IDD Control Project.
- The Gold Medal Award, |presented to His Majesty in 1998 by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD) in recognition of his long, invaluable contributions to global lung health. – The Nation