Thailand is known around the world for its lush landscapes, ancient architecture and breathtaking beaches. The nation receives more than 35 million visitors each year. Thailand ranked 4th globally for adventure value and 7th for cultural heritage in US News’ 2017 Best Countries Report, and Bangkok consistently ranks among the world’s top-visited cities. Perhaps less known is the healthcare and life sciences sector of Asia’s second-largest pharma market. PharmaBoardroom presents five facts about Thailand’s life sciences sector.
1. Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that provides Universal Healthcare
After more than 16 years of hard work, we have achieved our objective and we cover 99 percent of Thai people.
Jadej Thammatacharee, NHSO
Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that provides universal healthcare and one of the few countries globally to have achieved a universal healthcare coverage rate of 99 percent of the population. Since its adoption, public expenditure on health significantly increased from 63 percent in 2002 to 77 percent of the country’s total health expenditure in 2011, while out-of-pocket expenditure was reduced from almost 34 percent of the total health expenditure in 2000 to less than 15 percent in 2015. Furthermore, Thailand’s healthcare system was recently ranked sixth in a 2019 list of countries with the best healthcare systems by US magazine CEOWORLD.
As Jadej Thammatacharee, the Deputy Secretary General of the Thai National Health Service Organisation reported to PharmaBoardroom, “When the NHSO was created, only 77 percent of Thais were covered by any public health insurances. We decided to focus on the people without any public health insurance and created a new universal coverage scheme. After 2002, we set a special scheme, that everyone who was born in Thailand should be covered by this universal scheme. After more than 16 years of hard work, we have achieved our objective and we cover 99 percent of Thai people.”
2. Thailand is a top medical tourism destination
Thailand is becoming more popular and a hub for medical tourism thanks to its quality of care and high level of expertise.
Sumalee Kristarnin, Novartis Thailand
People travel to Thailand from around the world to receive medical treatment, and the country is the globe’s fourth-largest medical tourism destination, touting a high number of specialized medical centres, especially for chronic diseases and elderly care and costs of medical treatment considered lower than other regional medical tourism hubs such as Singapore. According to the Netherlands Worldwide Life Sciences & Health Report, Thailand attracts over 2 million international patients a year and the number is rising. It is estimated that in 2015 the healthcare system in Thailand treated around 2.8 million foreign patients (up 10.2 percent from 2014) and generated earnings of USD 3 billion, a significant contributor to the local economy. Most foreign patients are from the Middle East and Southeast Asian countries.
The local pharma industry benefits tremendously from the rise in medical tourism. Sumalee Kristarnin, country president of Novartis Thailand, commented that “Thailand is becoming more popular and a hub for medical tourism thanks to its quality of care and high level of expertise. We have many physicians graduated from the best universities and leading medical schools around the globe. Their expertise combined with the relatively low cost of care makes Thailand an attractive place.”
3. Thailand’s pharma market is steadily growing
The pharmaceutical market in Thailand has been one of the fastest-growing industry sectors in Thailand.
Roland Wein, German-Thai Chamber of Commerce
Currently at USD 5.7 billion, the Thai pharma market ranks second in the ASEAN region after Indonesia, while Kungsri Research projects the market to grow by an average of 5-6 percent per year from 2018 to 2020. According to research firm GlobalData, the industry is expected to grow to USD 9.47 billion by 2020.
Some of the main growth drivers are a steady increase in an ageing population, a rise in medical tourism, and an uptick in Thai pharma exports to other countries in the region. As Dr Roland Wein, executive director of the German-Thai Chamber of Commerce, speculates, “The pharmaceutical market in Thailand has been one of the fastest-growing industry sectors in Thailand, and it is still growing. It is a market which is going to enlarge, because Thailand has a fast-ageing population and a growing number of patients.”
4. Thailand leads Asia in medical cannabis legalisation
Thailand is the first country in Asia to legalize the utilization of cannabis for medical purposes.
Tares Krassanairawiwong, Thai FDA
In 2019, Thailand became the first country in Asia to legalise medical cannabis in a unanimous parliamentary decision. Over the course of the first year after its legalisation, the country has updated medical cannabis policies and regulations to ensure safety and oversee patient access and cannabis production.
In a PharmaBoardroom interview with the Thai FDA’s secretary-general, Tares Krassanairawiwong, he stated that “the government and the Thai FDA is looking carefully at the legalization of medical marijuana. Thailand is the first country in Asia to legalize the utilization of cannabis for medical purposes. Early this year, the Thai FDA amended the Narcotics Act to permit the use of cannabis for medical and research purposes under the supervision of a licensed physician who has been trained under specific courses approved by the Ministry of Public Health. The government has also supported potential agencies to cultivate quality cannabis for domestic medical uses.”
5. Thailand has adopted GMP in line with international standards
We have invested a lot in terms of improving our facility from GMP Standard to GMP PIC/S
Suthep Namwongsamran, MH Manufacturing
Thailand is the fifth Asian country to have become a member of the Pharmaceutical Inspection Co-operation Scheme (PIC/S), after Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia. Becoming a member of the PIC/S showcases that Thailand’s Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) inspection procedures for drugs correspond to international standards. Thailand’s membership is predicted to significantly improve the export prospects of Thailand’s 170 local pharma manufacturers.
Local company MH Manufacturing general manager Suthep Namwongsamran shared his perspective on the inspection scheme with PharmaBoardroom: “The government has introduced a key policy, which has had a significant impact on the entire local industry, which is the implementation of the GMP PIC/S three years ago. That is why we have invested a lot in terms of improving our facility from GMP Standard to GMP PIC/S. This change requires a significant investment for every Thai company.”