Several experts in the local health sector believe heart disease is among the most common causes of illness in Thailand. Why is this?
Heart disease is one of the major health factors influencing mortality and life expectancy in Thailand. There are many reasons for this. Above all is that Thai's are still developing their understanding of a healthy lifestyle, which is proven to ameliorate heart problems. By this, I am referring to eating a healthy diet, participating in sports activities, not smoking, and maintaining a proper bodyweight. These are all issues that are common to many developing countries and not exclusive to Thailand; however, in Thailand, we are still behind on promoting education on these issues, which is where The Heart Association of Thailand comes in.
What activities has The Heart Association of Thailand promoted to address the problems of heart disease?
Our key responsibility is to focus on prevention through public education jointly with the Heart Foundation of Thailand. Our activities are run through the different working groups and clubs under The Heart Association of Thailand, which all focus on specific issues within heart disease. For example, we oversee the function of the Thai Society of Cardiac Imaging, the Heart Failure Council of Thailand, the Thai Resuscitation Council, The Society of Pediatric Cardiology of Thailand, and the Cardiac Rehabilitation Society of Thailand, among others. These are all subgroups that are represented by some of the leading medical and academic experts on heart disease in Thailand. Supporting these groups and linking their findings to public health policy is the key aim of The Heart Association of Thailand. One of our major successes has been to ensure that medical and surgical treatments of heart disease are covered by the national healthcare policy for all Thai nationals. This is crucial because it means that even when we miss the prevention stage, we are still able to provide access to treatment for everyone.
As an association under Royal Patronage, how important has this status been to your achievements?
It has been important. Before we were awarded Royal Patronage, people's awareness of heart disease, let alone The Heart Association of Thailand, was low. Then, about 20 years ago, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej had some heart issues, which were treated at Siriraj Hospital. Since then, he realized the importance of maintaining a healthy heart and a healthy lifestyle; therefore, he decided to promote this issue publically by awarding us with Royal Patronage status. With this royal support, our significance and reputation has increased drastically. It is because of the Royal Patronage that we have been able to coordinate so many specialized working groups and attract leading experts from across the cardiovascular field.
What are your expectations for the year ahead?
I believe that 2016 will be a game-changer for the local health sector, and indeed our own goal. Primarily, this will be because of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which will come into effect at the end of the year. The reason why this will be such a vital factor for the health industry is because it will ease the access of patients from neighboring countries to Thailand's health facilities. At present, we have already received a vast number of patients from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and also from the Middle East. We expect this number to increase significantly. Our strategy, therefore, will be to work intensively on improving healthcare standards along the Thai borders as well as international boundaries. We aim to improve the standards of healthcare and accommodate the surge of medical tourists that we are expecting. Then, Thailand's health sector will not only experience a boom in 2016 and beyond, but also become the medical hub of Asia.