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Thailand’s health industries are improving care to safeguard the human foundations of the economy

Apr 10. 2020
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The covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of robust health systems and medical supply chains in responding to crises. At the same time, the drastic effects it is likely to have on the global economy show how investment in health care and medical technology is vital to protecting the human resources that power businesses.

Among South-East Asian countries, Thailand has one of the strongest health-care systems. It deservedly has a reputation for high-quality care, with a vast array of private hospitals that offer world-class care in plush settings. More than 60 hospitals in Thailand are accredited by Joint Commission International (JCI), which certifies adherence to high international standards and promotes best practice, and there are more than 60,000 licensed doctors in the country.

As with all aspects of the Thai economy under the government’s vision of Thailand 4.0—a country driven by innovative, high-value industry—today there is a push for the field of health and wellness to build on its natural synergy with research and technology. New treatment facilities will improve the health of locals and patients from abroad, while product-driven businesses are exporting Thai medical know-how to the world and securing local supplies of essential products.

Recent growth in Thailand’s medical-device trade has been substantial: valued at around $3 billion in 2009, it now stands at around $5.3 billion per year, with 60.4% coming from exports. Companies involved include local subsidiaries of global leaders such as Nipro, which makes supplies including blood tubing sets, balloon catheters, needles and syringes. Foreign investment has also built strength in the production of optical lenses, with the Japanese company Hoya and French Essilor International both operating in the country.

“Investment in health care and medical technology protects the human resources that power industry.”

Medicine and health care in Thailand are also being advanced by specialised R&D at companies such as Siam Bioscience, a biopharmaceutical firm that counts the facilitation of health-care security among its aims. The company is currently building a $100m R&D centre focused on treatments for cancer and auto-immune diseases in Nonthaburi, north of Bangkok, and will take advantage of tax breaks offered by the Thailand Board of Investment.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) in three provinces east of Bangkok is playing a key part in the development of highly specialised care facilities. A special economic promotion zone in East Pattaya will foster a new medical hub, EECmd, which will feed downstream industries. One cornerstone of the hub will be the Lakeside Premier Complex, dedicated to the study and treatment of older patients and ageing itself. Such activity is crucial to the long-term health of the country and its population: according to the World Bank, more than 25% of Thais will be over 65 by 2040.

In keeping with the overall plans for the EEC, the medical city at EECmd will be connected to Bangkok and the world by high-speed rail and the major international airports serving Bangkok and Pattaya.

Outside of EECmd, the Cancer Alliance Hospital (CAH) in Sriracha is among the pioneering medical enterprises within the corridor. Cancer is among the leading causes of death in Thailand, and Pittayaphum Patrnuthaphon, the hospital’s chief executive, explains that problems of inequality and geographic availability often limit access to care, particularly in provincial areas. In response, “CAH Hospital is a private hospital with special characteristics,” he says, since it “provides patients with advanced techniques” so they “can get service quickly … and at the required standard.”

“The Eastern Economic Corridor is playing a key part in the development of highly specialised care facilities.”

Being in the EEC and part of the health industry, which the Thailand Board of Investment targets for development, CAH is eligible for corporate income tax exemptions. “The BOI … sees a lack of radiotherapy for cancer patients,” says Dr Patrnuthapon, and so this support forms a kind of investment in the health of society, and in the human resources that are an essential driver of industry. “CAH Hospital is confident of growing together with the EEC because of a healthy population,” he says.

The Thailand Board of Investment supports the development of industry in Thailand through a range of programmes and incentives open to local businesses and foreign investors. To learn more and make contact, visit www.boi.go.th.

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