Infectious Diseases in Thailand: Spearheading a Regional Approach

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Thailand has experienced a steady decline in infectious disease rates in the last generation thanks to the country’s commitment to life sciences research. The executive vice president of the National Science and Technology Development Agency elaborates on Thailand’s research on infectious diseases and how collaboration fuels further progress. 

 

We are working on developing technologies and products to support public health, improve efficiency in healthcare budgeting and deal with emerging diseases.

Dr Prof Prasit Palittapongarnpim, NSTDA

 

Thailand has experienced remarkable progress over the last half century, elevating itself from a low-income country to an upper-income country in less than a generation. However, poverty and inequality continue to pose challenges in the country, especially in regards to public health. Due to the variation in the socioeconomic background of its population and the country’s ecosystems, disease distribution varies. The most common infectious diseases are currently hepatitis A and B and HIV, and tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue still pose a health risk. 

 

Infectious disease mortality rates have been steadily declining since the 1950s. The implementation of a malaria control program and new and effective antimicrobial drugs contributed considerably to the reduction in communicable disease–related illness and deaths in the second half of the twentieth century. (Source: Emerging Infectious Diseases 2012)

 

Thailand demonstrates a high level of expertise in the field of life sciences and disease research, on par with more economically developed countries, thanks to its highly skilled workforce and universal healthcare system. Prof. Dr. Prasit Palittapongarnpim, Executive Vice President of Research and Development Management and International Collaboration at the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) told PharmaBoardroom, “Thailand has an excellent level of expertise in certain industries. We are able to compete with Singapore and Japan in the area of infectious diseases for example, if we compare our populations and the quality of our services.” 

 

The country aims to continue supporting and improving public health through the creation of a Health and Medical Cluster targeted toward disease research and treatment. Dr. Palittapongarnpim continues: “We are working on developing technologies and products to support public health, improve efficiency in healthcare budgeting and deal with emerging diseases. This cluster comprises three research programs: the newly emerging diseases and re-emerging disease program, especially in infectious disease and dengue, the medical biotechnology program, and the medical device and digital healthcare program.”

 

While Thailand displays excellence in its homegrown life sciences research, the country still sees benefits in international collaboration to increase visibility and leverage other countries’ medical expertise. According to Dr. Palittapongarnpim, “Regarding international collaboration, we are pushing to develop collaboration with other countries to support our work and improve our research. In this case, we are working closely with the UK, other European countries, and Japan, mainly on genomics and infectious diseases. In this area, we are also collaborating with the Chinese Institutes. We are increasing the international awareness of Thailand.

 

However, international collaboration has some limitations, especially in regards to developing antimicrobial agents. Dr Kumthorn Malathum, president of the Infectious Disease Association of Thailand, believes that a local collaborative approach works best: “I am convinced that the pharmaceutical industry should pay more attention and try to have a deeper look into the area of infectious diseases. We are trying to work with the multinational and the local, to put our strengths together. As an example, the design of antimicrobial agents should be based on susceptibility data of pathogens in this region of the world because they are somehow different from those in the western world. Agents designed based on those countries frequently do not match with the pathogens in this region and they are of limited value to be launched here.”

 

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