About 40 years ago, Thailand’s government introduced an ambitious programme to provide healthcare to its 34 million rural population.
In exchange for the state paying their tuition fees, young Thai medics are obliged to spend their first three years as qualified doctors working wherever the government feels they are needed.
We follow a group of young doctors sent to work in the northwest province of Tak, some 400km from Bangkok. From having to treat infectious diseases to chronic illnesses, the young doctors have to adapt with a confidence beyond their years.
To keep doctors in the countryside, the government has introduced certain incentives. Their pay is 15 percent higher than in public hospitals in the cities, and accommodation comes with the job. Despite this, after three years of mandatory service about a quarter of doctors head back to the cities. Within ten years the retention rate falls even further with three out of four doctors leaving.
Dr Worawit Tantiwattanasap is the head of a remote hospital in Umphang and he has dedicated his life to serving this poor, rural community. Migrant and stateless populations put increasing pressure on the hospital, but he is adamant that they will treat everybody, regardless of their ability to pay, and has found innovative ways to do so.
He says: “I looked up and saw the poverty, people brought here to die, women dying in labour. I suddenly understood that being a doctor is good. We can help people …. Remember, mosquitos don’t respect ID cards. They bite everyone. If we refused to treat the poor or stateless people, the diseases would spread.”
Since Thailand’s health plan was introduced four decades ago, the infant mortality rate has fallen from 7 percent to just 1 percent and it is now three times lower than the regional average. The country has become a global leader in the fight against malaria, having cut related infections and deaths by 90 percent.
This film reveals both the successes and also the challenges facing the Thai government’s efforts to provide healthcare to its rural population.