200,000 stateless people lack healthcare
Govt urged to add thousands to scheme
Civic groups have called on the Public Health Ministry to quickly extend membership in the healthcare scheme for stateless people to more than 200,000 people who still face citizenship problems.
Surapong Kongchantuk, a human rights lawyer from the Lawyers Council of Thailand, said that in 2010 former health minister Jurin Laksanawisit secured cabinet approval in only two months to establish the scheme which gives free healthcare coverage to 400,000 stateless people nationwide. But there are still over 200,000 that must be included in the scheme.
Stateless people are those whose births were not officially registered and so do not hold Thai citizenship. They include hill tribe people born in remote areas, those whose ancestors settled here long ago, and Thais whose parents failed to register their births. Many are undergoing lengthy nationality verification procedures.
Mr Surapong was speaking yesterday at the seminar, "Looking backward, Looking forward: Healthcare Scheme for People with Citizenship Problems". He called on the Public Health Ministry to urgently propose the scheme's membership extension for cabinet approval.
"The process to get cabinet approval is sluggish despite the fact this is not a new topic," Mr Surapong said.
"The healthcare scheme involves peoples' lives. If it goes slowly, there will be losses," he added.
The state allocates about 900 million baht to the scheme each year and adding 200,000 more people will cost another 400 million baht, officials say.
The civic groups argue that stateless people should have healthcare rights even while going through the Thai citizenship verification process.
Speakers at the seminar urged Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin to immediately table the issue before the cabinet. Some criticised Dr Rajata for making slow progress on the issue even though it was a policy he announced when he took office in September last year.
Wiwat Tamee, from the Network of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand, said: "Six months passed by with little progress. We are worried the Public Health Ministry might not succeed in turning this into reality."
The Public Health Ministry said yesterday Dr Rajata will raise the issue with the cabinet this week.
The cabinet will be asked for three things: extending the scheme for people with citizenship problems to another 285,000 people (over 200,000 stateless people and about 76,540 unregistered children and school students); allocating an additional 412 million baht of the state budget for hospitals along the border to finance the scheme; and laying out long-term strategies to manage the healthcare system for stateless people.
Nuanchan Wachsuwanmanee, director of Thong Tha Phum Hospital in Kanchanaburi, urged the ministry to obtain quick approval for the scheme since many stateless people have been seeking healthcare services at her hospital since the scheme was launched five years ago.
The hospital was eight-million-baht in debt in 2009 as it gives humanitarian health services to stateless people who are not in government health schemes. The deficit was reduced to 2.5 million baht last year because of financial aid from the scheme for people with citizenship problems.