Friday, 11 July 2008

Thai Healthcare Proposal for Migrants, Stateless People

The Irrawaddy News

The Thai cabinet will consider extending healthcare coverage to migrant worker children born in Thailand and stateless people, according to the National Health Security Office (NHSC).

Dr Pratheep Thanakitcharoen, the deputy general-secretary of the NHSC, said on Wednesday the Ministry of Public Health will submit a budget for cabinet approval that will provide medical services for more than 700,000 stateless people and migrant children who were born in the kingdom.

Stateless people, often members of native ethnic groups, may have been born in the kingdom or lived here for decades, but have not received Thai citizenship.

“The office has proposed this plan several times but it has not been approved,” Pratheep said on a public health Web site. “This time, we will try to convince the government to extend care health to more groups because it will benefit disease control for our whole society.”

On Wednesday, Dr Prat Bunyawongwirote, the ministry’s permanent secretary, said the government spent about 155 million baht (US $4.8 million) in 2007 on medical treatment of unregistered migrant workers from neighboring countries.

The data was collected from 30 provinces where migrant workers are concentrated. The most prevalent diseases were diarrhea, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDs, dengue fever and malaria.

The health ministry is also pushing for illegal migrants to register as migrant workers.

“The registered workers number only 600, 000 people from a total estimated to be about 1.3 million migrant workers, as of March 2008. We should promote migrant registration to facilitate disease control and the medical budget.” Prat said, according to a ministry statement.

The health ministry has designated 166 medical coordinators in public hospitals to work with migrant workers from Burma, Laos and Cambodia. Coordinators are usually migrants who have received health services training.

Migrant worker advocates say that although the government now provides health care for legal migrant workers, and oftentimes illegal migrants, many hospitals fail to provide services to undocumented workers, fearing hospital officials could be legally charged with providing shelter to illegal migrants.

An NGO staffer who works with migrant issues said the registration process, which ended in June this year, is repeatedly changed and should be simplified and made more transparent. “Workers and employers are confused. The registration process should be improved,” she told The Irrawaddy.

The number of registered migrant workers may decrease this year due to a decline in the Thai economy, particularly in the fishery and garment industries.

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