House passes Thailand’s 37.6 billion baht public health budget in its second reading

Thailand’s House of Representatives passed the Public Health Ministry’s (MoPH) 37.6 billion baht budget for the 2022 fiscal year, in its second reading today (Saturday), by 242:124 votes,despite opposition MPs’ heavy criticism of a the lack of transparency and inappropriate budgeting for several medical items, such as rapid antigen test kits (ATK) and the Chinese made Sinovac vaccine.

Pheu Thai MP Visarn Techathiravat questioned why the government continues to procure Sinovac vaccine, when so many people are rejecting it for its inferior quality.

Another Pheu Thai MP, Niyom Vechkama, said he had describedSinovac as plain saline solution when he asked his daughter why she had agreed to be inoculated with it. His disparaging remark about the vaccine provoked protest from several government MPs, demanding that he withdraw his statement, which he eventually agreed to do.

Pheu Thai MP Aekkachai Song-amnartcharoen demanded that the MoPH reveal the details of the procurement deal for 8.5 million ATKs from China’s Beijing Lepu Medical Technology Company, claiming that the product was rejected by the US Food and Drugs Administration.

He also questioned why Buri Ram province, which is not a tourist destination and has a population of 1.5 million, was allocated more than 600,000 doses of vaccine, while his home province of Ubon Ratchathani, which is bigger and has a largerpopulation, was assigned only 300,000.

Tavee Sodsong, who is also a member of the House budget scrutiny panel, questioned why the National Vaccine Institute was allocated just 22 million baht, which is less than last year, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic being more severe this year.

He said the Public Health Ministry has received about 20 million doses of vaccines so far, although it had been allocated funding to procure 105 million does before the end of this year. He also recommended that the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) stop serving as a “salesman” for Sinovac.

Dr. Wayo Asavaroongruang, a member of the House scrutiny committee, noted that the MoPH’s budget does not reflect the real situation, pointing out that the budget for the purchase of medical supplies with which to treat COVID-19 patients is smaller than that for cancer treatment.

He cited the proposed procurement of 46 medical oxygen generators, while the Busarakam field hospital alone is currently using about 200 of them, and the proposed procurement of only 150 ventilators, while the demand for such machine is on the rise.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Chuan Leekpai said he will allow the budget debate to continue, beyond its scheduled length of 3 days, due to its importance. Only 24 sections of the bill had been debated by Friday night.

He noted that several MPs who took part in the debate spoke as if the bill was in its first reading, which it is not, although he said the debate has been proceeding without problems.

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