Could Thailand Become The World’s Hub For Medical Tourism?

Thailand’s sparkling reputation for hospitals and medical facilities is well known throughout the Southeast Asia region, offering international standard service at comparatively reasonable prices.

The government is planning to take this one step further by firmly establishing the Kingdom as an international health hub, working on improving its service while simultaneously increasing quality of life for its residents.

Maj Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd, speaking for the government, confirmed that with the dawning of the Asean Economic Community, Thailand is now in a better position than ever to compete in the health tourism sector as it expects an influx of foreigners visiting the region for tourism and business.

During 2016, the government’s primary focus will be on improving the quality of 172 private hospitals found in Thailand’s most popular provinces: Ayutthaya, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Phangnga, Phuket, Phrachuap Khiri Khan, Songkhla and Surat Thani.

Thailand already has a head start on becoming a global health hub: it has more state and private hospitals with Joint Commission International accreditation than anywhere in the Asean region, while 2014 saw it welcome 1.2 million medical tourists – more than any other country. Bumrungrad International Hospital on Sukhumvit Soi 3 is also routinely placed in lists of the world’s best hospitals for medical tourism.

Rehab tourism

It’s not just Thailand’s traditional hospitals that are popular with foreigners; ‘rehab tourism’ in the Kingdom is also climbing in popularity.

With many offering the same level of therapy as the best facilities in the West, Thai rehab centres are able to compete for clients by offering comparatively much lower prices, as hotel costs are so much cheaper here. Where many rehab centres in the West are run-down and underfunded, many centres in Thailand offer a sanctuary style, holistic experience, treating patients for drug, alcohol, gambling and sex addictions.

British rocker Pete Doherty is known for spending significant time in the Hope Rehab Centre in Chon Buri province, for instance, while DARA (Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Asia) is a popular centre on Koh Chang with Australian addicts, reports AU News.

“In a place like Thailand we can do the hotel costs really cheaply, the therapy stuff is exactly the same as you’d get anywhere else,” says DARA director, Dr Philip Townshend.

Teen pregnancy

Thailand is also addressing health problems among its own population: most notably, the fact that it has one of the world’s highest teenage pregnancy rates. More than 50 in every 1,000 girls aged between 15 to 19 gives birth every year.

A Valentine’s Day campaign was launched by the government to promote condom use and urge for teenagers not to be embarrassed to buy and carry them. The campaign will run until 2019 and will focus more on reducing the social stigma around condoms, rather than promoting abstinence, as has been done in previous years.

“Teenagers, especially, do not have to be embarrassed about buying condoms,” said Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong, spokesman for the Thai health ministry.

“Society also has to accept that teenage girls buy condoms, which is better than more teenage girls getting pregnant.”