Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has praised the universal healthcare scheme as a key factor in reducing inequality in the country at a United Nations meeting despite previously slamming the scheme as a "costly populist" policy.
Gen Prayut was addressing a meeting, "The Path Towards Universal Health Coverage: Promotion of Equitable Global Health and Human Security in the Post-2015 Development Agenda", held as part of the UN General Assembly in New York.
He told the assembly investment in health was equivalent to investment for the betterment of the entire nation because public health was a key mechanism for sustainable development, and praised the notion of universal coverage.
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He said the government continued to assign priority to health services. The universal healthcare scheme gave the public taxpayer-funded access to healthcare services to prevent them from going bankrupt as a result of costly services, Gen Prayut said.
"Thailand achieved universal health coverage in 2002, resulting in inequalities in access to healthcare services between people living in large cities and those in rural areas decreasing significantly," he said.
One indicator that health was improving was the neonatal mortality rate, he said.
The rate had dropped significantly from 72 per 1,000 births in 1970 to only 11 per 1,000 births in 2014, he said.
The universal healthcare scheme was introduced by the Thaksin Shinawatra administration in 2002.
Gen Prayut in July branded the universal healthcare scheme, which benefits about 47 million people, a "costly populist" policy.
The scheme will "bankrupt a lot of hospitals in the next few years", he said. He questioned if Thailand was ready for the policy even though it benefits many people.