11 July 2024

Thailand’s health care for women at government medical facilities is free of charge and quite comprehensive. The problem is that a lot of people are unaware that there are such services available for free, said Dr. Phanitra Maneeratprasert, Gynaecologist at Bang Bua Thong Hospital in Nonthaburi province.

The women’s clinic at this hospital is one of over 130 service points available in Nonthaburi, providing women with the health care services they need, ranging from reproductive health and maternity care to breast and cervical cancer screening. In fact, it is one of over 7,000 facilities nationwide that provide such care.

Anyone who holds the Universal Health Care card can access these services.

For Lamai Yodmahalabkul, a 55-year-old housewife, it is the first time she has visited this hospital and she is already impressed. She was there for cervical cancer screening. She was told that they have free HPV-DNA cervical screening tests available here every Thursday, and it is different from the one usually included in the annual health check. “For this one, the doctor said the result is good for 5 years,” she told Thai PBS World.

Sita Sumleemuang, a 23-year-old mother-to-be, is at the women’s clinic for a maternity check-up. She lives in the neighborhood and has been coming to this hospital since she was a child.

This is Sita’s second pregnancy. She does not know how far along she is yet. The nurse said, judging from the size, she could be 5 months pregnant, but they will know for sure at the next appointment, only a few days from now.

Sita and her daughter while waiting for maternity check-ups. (Photo by Tulip Naksompop Blauw)

There are 12 nurses and 2 doctors working at this clinic. There could be up to 30 patients visiting for maternity care each day and another 10 to 30 patients for other women’s health care services. In some cases, however, the patient only needs to see nurses who specialize in certain services.

Dr. Phanitra said that, in addition to maternity care, they offer other outpatient gynecological services.

“There are also free screening tests. We have screening for cervical and breast cancers. It’s available here every Thursday, for half the morning. It is the HPV-DNA cervical screening test. It is a new kind of test. It used to be the Pap smear test, which can only detect cancer cells when there’s already an abnormality in the area of the cervix,” Dr. Phanitra added.

Dr. Phanitra has been working here since graduating from medical school 3 years ago. She decided to enter this field because, when she first experienced the moment of a woman giving birth during her student years, she felt delighted and impressed and wanted to be a part of those moments.

Dr. Phanitra said the hospital can provide quite comprehensive health services. The issues, mostly, are that some patients just do not want to come in, even when she assures them that the service is free.

“It is the patients. Some of them say they are too busy with work or they don’t know they are pregnant. It delays the (provision of) maternity care. So, instead of getting prenatal supplements, they don’t get any. Some show up for the first time when they are over 30 weeks into their pregnancy. Some show up when they are very close to their due date. Some don’t even show up until they are actually giving birth,” she added.

A specialist in women’s health from Thailand’s Medical Council, Dr. Olarik Musigavong, said that sexual and reproductive health services in Thailand have been improving for the past 20 years. What remains problematic, however, is the awareness of such services, including accessibility and affordability for different groups of patients.

Dr. Olarik explained that the main issues are that many are unaware of their rights or what services are available for them. Many forms of essential care are free of charge, but not everything.

By Tulip Naksompop Blauw