‘Everyone deserves basic health care rights’ is what Dr Pongsadhorn Pokpermdee, the winner of the UK Alumni Awards professional achievement category, firmly believes. This former doctor received a scholarship to study in the UK and is now a senior officer at the Ministry of Public Health. He has been the catalyst of several nationwide changes. His paths and thoughts are shared below.
Q: There must have been a turning point that made you so successful in your career. Could you tell us more about it?
A: I used to be a doctor and wanted to be a surgeon. But then I had an opportunity to work on a Health Care Reform Project, which was a collaboration between Thailand and the European Union. After that, I decided not to pursue specialisation because I wanted to really create a change in society. That is why I chose to study Public Health and Policy in the UK, instead.
Q: Why did you choose the UK? How did you choose which country to go to?
A: I like the atmosphere in York and the University of York is one of the world’s top 3 universities in the field of public health. At that time, I also received scholarships to study master’s and PhD degrees from the Thai government. They agreed that the UK public health system – a system that everyone has the right to access – is a suitable match for Thailand. This is also what I wanted.
Q: After coming back, what have you been working on at the Ministry of Public Health?
A: Many things, such as developing public health policies that enable people to access the necessary medicine, medicines for mental illness or cancer that are expensive, as well as extending the 30-Baht health scheme to include people with status issues and thus no rights.
Q: Are there Thai people who cannot access the 30-Baht scheme?
A: In the past, the scheme was only for people with Thai citizenship. This excluded people living along the borders, e.g. ethnic groups, from the system. This thinking was not correct. Most people thought that those groups were not Thai. We spent 4 years changing the term that we use for them now and developing a new understanding, using various media to help. In the end, we were able to set up this fund. 450,000 people were helped in the first wave and over 200,000 people in the second. This project will reach its 10-year anniversary next year.
Q: Many people wonder why the UK has the world-leading health insurance system. Is it about taxes? Are you able to explain a bit for us?
A: It’s partly about taxes. Another part is that the income in the UK is quite high compared to the middle income in Thailand. Actually, we can do it well to a certain extent. We are one of the leading countries in the world [in terms of health insurance systems] but our quality can still be improved upon.
Q: Can you say that studying in the UK has made you who you are today?
A: Nowadays the world is changing fast. Studying overseas is therefore important. Seeing the world can make us prosper, understand cultural diversity and help us to adapt in our own country. Many people may be worried about language. I would suggest they see this as an opportunity to change. Another important point is that when working, we have to be in reality but also apply imagination. If we live in reality and do not have imagination, we will not develop much. But if we have a lot of imagination but do not understand reality, our ideas are all over the place. Studying overseas will allow us to stimulate the imagination and understand reality.