Healthcare in Thailand
Thailand is a country of hundreds of islands in Southeast Asia with a population of nearly 70 million people. Thailand has a history of political instability and economic uncertainty along with rising poverty rates. However, the country has made great strides to improve its healthcare. Nearly 7 million of Thailand’s citizens live in poverty and a wealthy few control a large majority of the country’s wealth. With one of the most extreme wealth gaps in the world, universal healthcare in Thailand creates a meaningful movement toward equality for all its citizens.

Switching to Universal Health Coverage (UHC)

In 2002, Thailand made the transition from a combination of various healthcare policies to an all-encompassing, universal health coverage (UHC) system. Under the UHC system, every Thai citizen is entitled to health services — including preventative, curative and palliative care, at any age. Under this system, financial protection for high-cost services also improved.

Challenges in Financing the UHC System

Though universal health coverage in Thailand has allowed increased access for all ages and classes of citizens, the country still faces challenges with funding the program. The UHC system is a predominantly publicly funded program, meaning that it functions mainly through taxation. Because the nearly 7 million Thai citizens live no more than 20% above the poverty line, the UHC budget coming from taxes is relatively inflexible. Therefore, funding the growing demands for healthcare in Thailand often requires reaching into other public funds.

Access to preventative medicine has decreased the rates of many illnesses by keeping them from occurring in the first place. However, medical expenses in other categories are on the rise. As the average age of the population increases, healthcare in Thailand faces an influx in elderly patients needing more care. Unsafe road conditions and unenforced traffic laws in many regions also contribute to high rates of road accidents and result in excessive trauma cases. Also, air pollution in cities and extreme weather conditions in various regions across the many islands contribute to increased utilization of the UHC system. For the UHC system to be an equitable, effective and sustainable service for the country, other avenues of funding must be explored.

Challenges and Looking Ahead

Healthcare in Thailand has had many positive improvements since the national transition to universal coverage in 2001. Yet, like any system, it often faces continued challenges. The system is considered popular among lower-paid citizens that did not previously have access to care. Albeit, higher-income communities hold some distaste for the system due to increased access leading to more crowding in hospitals. Universal healthcare in Thailand has created a much more inclusive environment for the Thai people as it helps to bridge the immense wealth gap. A gap between the nearly 7 million living in poverty and the wealthy 1%.

Positive Impact of the UHC System

This alteration of the previous healthcare system has led to an increase in the utilization of health services and decreased the prevalence of unmet needs in the country. Overall, healthcare in Thailand is improving. Not only did rates of care increase with the introduction of the UHC system, but other metrics of improving healthcare also rose.

Life expectancy from birth rose from 71.8 years before the introduction of the UHC system, to 77.2 years in 2020. Infant mortality rates similarly fell from more than 100 per 1,000 births in 1970 to 7 per 1,000 births in 2020. As citizens have been able to access preventative care and more expensive intervention at lower personal cost, out-of-pocket spending on healthcare needs have decreased. Meanwhile, household savings increased. Though the switch to universal healthcare certainly faces challenges, it has created quantifiable positive change for millions living in Thailand.

Jazmin Johnson 
Photo: Unsplash

positive covid-19 storiesThe COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the world. While many countries have been devastated, three countries have positive COVID-19 stories: New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam. Here are their positive COVID-19 stories and the lessons they learned from their experiences.

New Zealand

The pacific island nation of around 5 million people had a couple of different strategies in its response to COVID-19. In particular, unity within New Zealand and the nation’s neighboring countries played a big role in the country’s success against the virus. New Zealand offered to help its neighboring countries to prepare for the pandemic. To do so, the country offered health training and made sure that its island neighbors had supplies to fight the virus. Importantly, this unity in New Zealand bridged across political party lines when needed. This resulted in a massive stimulus package passed just weeks after the country’s first case. The stimulus totaled NZ$12.1 billion, around 4% of the country’s GDP. Included in the stimulus package is support for businesses, support for testing and health services and payments to those who couldn’t work because of the virus.

Caution also plays a big part in New Zealand’s success against the virus. The first case of the virus was detected on 28 Feb. 2020. Even before that, however, the government took measures to limit the possible damage of COVID-19. When New Zealand only had 283 cases, the government ordered all non-essential workers to work from home to limit the virus’s spread.

Moreover, the government came up with a four-level alert system to help people know how the virus is spreading. Level one means the disease is contained in New Zealand and level four means community transmission is happening and the disease is not contained. Given how much time the country has spent in the lower levels, its represents one of many positive COVID-19 stories that the whole world can learn from.

Thailand

Thailand is one of the countries that have positive COVID-19 stories. The Asian country of almost 70 million people was designated a success by the WHO. The economy of Thailand is one that is heavily built on tourism, with one-fifth of GDP coming from the tourist sector. However, since the virus has spread, the government of Thailand has had to make economic sacrifices to protect public health. The country had to close its borders to certain travelers, including many Chinese provinces. In addition, Thailand postponed many sporting events and held them without fans to slow the spread of the virus. In particular, Bangkok was in a partial lockdown with only essential services remaining open. Slowing down activity does hurt the economy, but it eases the blow of the virus.

Thailand has also mobilized more than 1 million health volunteers to help respond to the virus. In addition, the government’s health officials have taken the side of precaution throughout the pandemic. This includes rigorous hygiene and wearing face masks at all times. Moreover, Thai people have generally followed the advice of medical professionals, which has contributed to the Thailand’s COVID-19 success story. The Thai government also has one centralized administration, which helped with communication and organization throughout the pandemic.

Vietnam

Vietnam is also among countries with positive COVID-19 stories. Vietnam’s actions to deal with the virus came early and were aggressive, taking place before the virus even entered the country. This early and decisive action is one of the measures that helped Vietnam early on and controlled the virus’s spread. In early January 2020, Vietnam was already preparing for drastic action before there was a recorded case in the country.

Vietnam enacted travel restrictions, closed schools and enacted a rigorous contact and tracing system, while also canceling public events. Governmental communication was upfront and transparent. Consequently, this helped with public compliance to slow the virus outbreak. Vietnam has been one of the best countries in regard to wearing a face mask, which helps slow the spread of the virus. A coordinated media effort throughout Vietnam has also helped the public and government be on the same page in response to the virus.

Another reason Vietnam has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 is its testing. The country tests everyone in quarantine whether they have symptoms or not. This helps slow the spread of the virus, because not everyone who is infected shows symptoms. As a result, younger people who may be infected but don’t have symptoms don’t infect those who may be at higher risk of death to COVID-19. While there was no nationwide lockdown, Vietnam did impose containment on certain areas to reduce the spread of the virus. In February 2020, when a small handful of cases were in the area of Son Loi, the government sealed off the area to prevent the spread of the virus.

What We Can Learn from These Countries

These three countries show positive COVID-19 stories despite a situation that has turned negative in so many countries. A few similarities have emerged between the countries and their success. One is the unity between government and people, which is important to building communication and trust. When citizens trust their government and can easily access clear guidelines, they are more likely to comply with health measures to reduce the spread of the virus. Another similarity between these countries is that it’s better to be cautious rather than reckless. This helps to slow the spread of the virus and make it easier to track. With all the hardship and destruction brought on by COVID-19, these countries with positive COVID-19 stories show how to keep as many people as safe as possible.

Zachary Laird
Photo: Pexels

tourism and COVID-19COVID-19 has caused major disruptions for travel on a global scale. The tourism industry has already experienced a loss of over $300 billion in the first five months of 2020, and that number is projected to increase to as much as $1.2 trillion due to the pandemic. Additionally, 100 to 120 million jobs associated with tourism are at risk. Tourism and COVID-19 have struggled to co-exist amidst the turmoil of 2020, especially in three major tourist countries. However, organizations are working to protect the future of the travel industry.

Global Tourism and COVID-19

Tourism is considered the third-largest export sector. It is an essential component of the global economy, comprising 10.4% of total economic activity in 2018. Some countries rely on tourism for 20% or more of their total GDP. Many countries rely on capital from tourists, ranging from small, low-income island countries to larger, high-income countries. However, according to a U.N. policy brief, there will be an estimated 58-78% decrease in tourists in 2020 compared to 2019. Three countries that have been especially affected by COVID-19 and tourism are Spain, Thailand and Mexico.

  1. Spain: Spain experienced the second-largest overall economic loss in tourism due to the pandemic, behind the United States. The country lost $9.7 million in revenue due to travel restrictions and decreased tourism. Because Spain is a high-income country and has various other contributors to its economy, it is expected to recover with greater resilience than similarly impacted, lower-income countries.
  2. Mexico: In 2018, Mexico gained a total of 7.15% of its GDP from tourism. However, Mexico’s income from tourism in April 2020 was a mere 6.3%. Additionally, the tourism sector accounts for approximately 11 million jobs in Mexico alone, many of which are now at risk.
  3. Thailand: Thailand has lost nearly $7.8 million due to travel restrictions since the start of the pandemic. The country has taken these limitations seriously in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, this action has come at the cost of earning a ranking as one of the countries hit hardest by economic losses associated with tourism. The tourism sector is responsible for about 10% of the country’s total GDP.

Government Response to Tourism and COVID-19

Although COVID-19 has introduced an unprecedented economic strain on a global scale, governments are working to help countries recover. Spain released an aid package allocating €400 million to the transport and tourism sectors, €14 million to boost the local economy and €3.8 million for public health. Mexico’s government is distributing 2 million small loans of 25 thousand pesos (about $1000) to small businesses. Lastly, Thailand has approved three tourism packages to assist the local economy and small businesses.

NGO Policy Response to Tourism and COVID-19

With government and NGO action, experts predict that the travel sector will return to 2019 economic levels by around 2023. Many organizations are stepping in with policy solutions, providing hope for the industry’s revival. The U.N. World Tourism Organization released the COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package, highlighting three main policy areas: “Managing the crisis and mitigating the impact,” “providing stimulus and accelerating recovery” and “preparing for tomorrow.” Similarly, the International Labour Organization released a policy framework with four main pillars to protect workers, stimulate the economy, introduce employment retention strategies and encourage solutions-based social dialogue.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development provides “Travel in the New Normal,” a series of six policy areas. These include helping businesses to implement “touchless” solutions, sanitation supplies, health screenings and other protective measures to prevent COVID-19. The OECD states that domestic travel will be vital for the recovery of tourist nations, contributing to 75% of the tourism economy in OECD member countries.

These efforts, along with other policy strategies, are vital to the recovery of the tourism industry. They will be particularly important for small- and medium-sized enterprises, industry-employed women and the working class as a whole. These policies will also further U.N. Sustainable Development Goals like No Poverty, Reduced Inequality, Partnership, Sustainable Cities & Communities and Decent Work & Economic Growth.

The tourism sector has suffered major losses in response to COVID-19, with a significant amount of revenue and jobs lost or at severe risk. Countries of all regions and income levels have been affected by the pandemic, including Spain, Mexico and Thailand. However, these setbacks provide unique opportunities to both transform the tourism industry and promote the Sustainable Development Goals.

– Sydney Bazilian
Photo: Flickr

American ExportsThroughout the past several decades, nations in Southeast Asia have seen significant declines in extreme poverty rates. As poverty has fallen and these nations have developed economically, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has become the United States’ fourth-largest trading partner. While the United States does rely heavily on this region for imports, trade with ASEAN also supports American exports and bolsters nearly 346,000 American jobs. The following five countries in Southeast Asia are critical trading partners and demonstrate the economic benefits that can coincide with a decrease in extreme poverty:

1. Malaysia

Malaysia has been extremely successful in reducing poverty throughout the past several decades. According to the United Nations, “… in 1970, 49.3% of Malaysian households were below the poverty line.” As of 2015, the figure had fallen to 0.4%. As poverty has fallen, Malaysia has also grown economically, developing profitable manufacturing, petroleum and natural gas industries.

As the country has reduced poverty and developed economically, it has become an important trading partner to the United States. The United States imports electrical machinery, tropical oils and rubber from Malaysia. It also exports soybeans, cotton and aircraft to the nation. In total, the trade between the two nations totals around $57.8 billion each year and supports nearly 73,000 American jobs.

2. Thailand

Thailand is another country that has seen impressive levels of poverty reduction in recent decades. According to The World Bank, poverty rates fell from around 65% in 1988 to under 10% in 2018. The nation has also evolved economically, developing large automotive and tourism industries as poverty rates have fallen.

Trade between the United States and Thailand has steadily grown, totaling $48.9 billion in 2018. When analyzing imports, the United States relied on Thailand for machinery, rice and precious metals. In terms of exports, the United States provided the nation with electrical machinery, mineral fuels and soybeans. In total, the exports to the nation supported nearly 72,000 American jobs. Additionally, exports to Thailand have been increasing in recent years, growing nearly 14.5% from 2017 to 2018.

3. Vietnam

Vietnam is perhaps one of the most astounding examples of poverty reduction and economic development. The World Bank reports that “the poverty headcount in Vietnam fell from nearly 60% to 20.7% in the past 20 years.” As it has done so, the nation developed one of the most rapidly growing middle classes in Southeast Asia, became a center for foreign investment and developed key industries in electronics, footwear and textiles.

While the United States has come to heavily rely on Vietnamese imports, Vietnam is also a rapidly growing market for American exports. In fact, American exports of goods to Vietnam increased by 246.9%, and American exports of services to the nation increased 110% since 2008. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, “U.S. exports of Goods and Services to Vietnam supported an estimated 54,000 American jobs in 2015.”

4. Indonesia

Though the nation still has significant progress to make, Indonesia is another nation that has seen a reduction in extreme poverty rates. Since 1990, the nation has managed to half its poverty rate and make significant economic advancements. Currently the largest economy in Southeast Asia, the nation has developed notable industries in petroleum, natural gas, textiles and mining.

Trade with the nation totaled around $32.9 billion in 2019. While the United States imported apparel and footwear from the nation, it also exported soybeans, aircraft and fuels to Indonesia. In total, American exports to Indonesia are growing, increasing 19.1% from 2017 to 2018 and supporting nearly 56,000 American jobs.

5. Philippines

While poverty is still an issue in the Philippines, it has seen significant declines in recent years. According to the World Bank, poverty fell from 26.6% to 21.6% from 2006 to 2015. The nation has also made significant improvements in developing industries outside of agriculture. While agriculture composed nearly one-third of the nation’s GDP in the 1970s, it currently represents 9.3%, split between an emerging industrial and service sector.

Trade with the nation currently provides $29.6 billion each year, and exports to the Philippines grew 3% from 2017 to 2018. Mainly, the Philippines relies on American exports for electrical machinery, soybean meal, and wheat. Overall, exports to the Philippines support an estimated 58,000 American jobs.

Affecting nearly one in five American jobs, international trade is a critical part of the American economy. As demonstrated by Southeast Asia, a reduction in global poverty rates not only contributes to global economic development but also supports the export industry and American jobs.

– Michael Messina
Photo: Pexels

HIV in ThailandHIV is a leading cause of death for people under the age of 50 in Thailand. Of those with HIV in Asia and the Pacific, 9% live in Thailand. In 2019, about 470,000 people were living with HIV in Thailand. Sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender individuals and people who inject drugs are most affected by the epidemic. Thailand has made progress in combating the disease, especially in regard to mother-to-child transmissions, which the country eliminated. However, HIV stigma is a factor both preventing people from seeking treatment and causing discrimination in healthcare. The stigma surrounding HIV can also lead to mental health issues such as depression.

HIV-Related Stigma

HIV stigma includes negative attitudes and judgments toward people living with HIV. Discrimination can occur when a healthcare professional refuses to provide services for people living with HIV. It can also occur when someone receives a lack of social support due to being HIV positive. The stigma and discrimination resulting from living with HIV can lead to internalized stigma. This stigma is when people living with HIV develop a negative self-image impacting their mental health. As a result, higher rates of loneliness and depression have been reported among people living with HIV.

HIV Research in Thailand

The National Institute of Nursing Research conducted a study in Thailand in 2007 which revealed information about the impact of HIV-related stigma on mental health. The researchers interviewed people living with HIV in northern and northeastern Thailand to collect data. Data was collected by measuring stigma on a scale of “Internalized Shame” and “Perceived Stigma.” They concluded that there is an association between depression and internalized shame, as well as between depression and perceived stigma.

Additionally, the study’s conclusion included strategies to improve the mental health of people living with HIV through treatment programs. The researchers emphasized the importance of boosting self-esteem and creating a sense of belonging to a community. Doing this would combat the effects of isolation often felt as a result of stigma. Furthermore, addressing HIV stigma in Thailand in addition to providing social support could positively impact the overall health of people with HIV.

Responses to the Impact of HIV on Mental Health

TREAT Asia (Therapeutics Research, Education and AIDS Training in Asia) is an organization working toward increasing access to psychiatric care. It also works toward improving mental health services for those living with HIV in Thailand. The organization is conducting a study on depression and anxiety among Thai adolescents with HIV. By evaluating participants, the study team aims to improve the health of Thai adolescents living with HIV. It does this through developing a better understanding of how to address mental health in the treatment process.

Service Workers in Groups (SWING), a Thai organization, provides HIV services and supports sex workers. COVID-19 left about 145,000 sex workers in Thailand without an income source. As a result, they are in greater need of support to cover basic necessities such as food and housing. Barriers preventing access to HIV treatment have only strengthened due to the coronavirus crisis. Sex workers are at a disadvantage in terms of social protection. SWING has made efforts to confront the new challenges due to COVID-19. It continues to provide HIV healthcare, including mental health services, for sex workers amid the pandemic

By 2030, the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand plans to reduce HIV discrimination in healthcare settings by 90%. While Thailand has enacted policies and laws to protect people living with HIV, they continue to endure the negative effects of HIV stigma. This prevents them from receiving efficient treatment. Greater efforts and more research are necessary to break the cycle of mental health issues created by HIV stigma to improve the quality of life for those living with HIV in Thailand.

Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

asian development bankThe Asian Development Bank (ADB), which was established in 1966, attempts to alleviate poverty in Asia by funding numerous welfare projects in the region. Many Asian countries are members of ADB, which provides them with loans and monetary assistance, as well as providing general technical help with different projects. ADB aims to achieve “a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific.” Here are four countries that ADB has benefited positively.

4 Countries the Asian Development Bank Has Helped

  1. China: The People’s Republic of China is a country that has experienced uneven development in the past century. Major cities are urbanized, while rural areas remain in extreme poverty. ADB has funded and overseen numerous projects to attempt to lift these areas out of poverty and improve the standard of living in the country. One project in Yunnan, for example, pays and trains women to maintain around 5,000 kilometers of rural roads. This offers economic opportunities to rural women while facilitating more transportation between rural towns. Another project funded the purchase of 1,860 clean buses to combat China’s pollution problem.
  2. Cambodia: While Cambodia has undergone positive development in recent years, poverty still exists in the country, and many of its residents live in adverse conditions. In 2017, for example, 21% of the Cambodian population did not have access to clean water. The Asian Development Bank has encouraged sustainable development in Cambodia through many large-scale projects. In 2003, the bank allotted $15.6 million to Cambodia as part of a project to attract tourists and benefit local economies. More recently, ADB approved a loan of $250 million to support Cambodia’s economy through the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Thailand: In recent years, poverty has unfortunately increased in Thailand, with the poverty rate growing from 7.8% in 2015 to 9.8% in 2018. According to the World Bank, this has been due to several “economic and environmental challenges,” particularly because individual Thai households are highly susceptible to variable economic conditions. Projects by ADB attempt to combat this—one 2017 program introduced around 500 farmers to the organic farming market. This connected them to a greater, more profitable market in order to attain a self-sufficient income. In 2012, a solar power plant funded by ADB was also completed, which generated enough power to provide clean electricity to 70,000 households. The plant also helps to keep greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere.
  4. Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka is a relatively small country, with a population of around 22 million. In 2016, 4.1% of the population was below the national poverty line. ADB has mainly funded rural development projects in Sri Lanka but has also focused on social justice and creating better living conditions for Sri Lankan residents. From 2000 to 2018, ADB helped connect more than 200,000 households to electricity and built or upgraded just under 4,000 kilometers of roads. The Asian Development Bank has also funded support for around one million residents affected by the Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted from 1983 to 2009.

Since its conception, ADB has made incredible progress in fighting poverty and assisting development in Asia. In 2019 alone, ADB committed $21.64 billion in loans, grants and other investments to various countries and provided $237 million in technical assistance. Still, much poverty remains to be fought—while Asian countries have experienced massive development in the 21st century, many rural areas have been left behind. Poverty remains a pervasive issue in Asia. The Asian Development Bank has changed the lives of many Asian residents, but much remains to be done.

– Maggie Sun
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in Thailand
With the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia, Thailand is a relatively wealthy country. Its vibrant culture, delicious food and beautiful scenery attract millions of visitors a year, greatly contributing to its economy. On top of the tourism industry, Thailand exports many commodities like rice, rubber and coconuts. The country also produces goods like textiles, cement and plastics. Though Thailand’s poverty rate has decreased by 65% since 1988, impoverished living conditions are still a pressing issue in the country. The poverty rate fluctuates and currently, it is on the uprise. Here are five facts about poverty in Thailand.

5 Facts About Poverty in Thailand

  1. Poverty is on the rise in Thailand. In 2015, the poverty rate was just 7.2%. This figure has risen to almost 10%. That amounts to 2 million more people living beneath the poverty line, a substantial increase in only a few years. The rise in poverty does not occur in only a few of the country’s regions. Since 61 out of 77 provinces have seen a rise in poverty, one cannot attribute the current situation regarding poverty in Thailand to one specific community or circumstance. It is a widespread problem with profound implications for the livelihood of all Thai people.
  2. The rise in poverty is mainly due to economic reasons. Honing a 4.1% GDP growth rate in 2018 (one of the lowest in the region), the lack of economic progression in Thailand greatly affects its citizens. Additionally, Thailand has the fourth highest wealth inequality rates in the world at 90.2%, meaning there is a huge disparity between the richest and poorest people in the country. Without economic development and wealth equality, cycles of impoverishment will continue to trap the people of the nation.
  3. Environmental disasters have pushed more Thai people into poverty. Agriculturists (who make up 31.8% of the workforce) are already a poor group in the country, but the recent droughts in the past year have impoverished them even more. This combination of economic and environmental factors pushes farmers into even more poverty. Droughts are not the only natural disaster devastating the country. The floods and tsunamis that hit the country throughout the 2000s perpetuated even more poverty in Thailand. These natural disasters are inevitable, yet the lack of safety nets in the country is damaging the livelihoods of farmers.
  4. One of the demographics that poverty affects the most in Thailand is children. As of 2012, 7% of children weighed in as underweight and 16% experience stunting (impaired physical or psychological development due to a lack of nourishment during adolescence). The severe lack of resources could greatly impair future generations in the country. UNICEF is quite active in Thailand, working to alleviate child mortality and malnourishment. Due to its work, the child mortality rate has decreased four-fold; yet, there is still more the country requires.
  5. A solution to the poverty crisis in the country is an increase in social safety nets. Considering that environmental disasters and economic factors contribute to the rise in poverty, government-sanctioned programs to protect the Thai people are one of the easiest solutions to this problem. If Thailand can pinpoint which demographics are most susceptible to poverty, the government can create specific jobs and policies to protect its most vulnerable people.

Despite these five facts about poverty in Thailand, there are still many success stories for the country in terms of poverty alleviation. According to the Asian Development Bank, nobody in Thailand lives in extreme poverty (under $1.90 a day). Everyone in the country has access to electricity, water sanitation is excellent and education rates are high. However, to ensure every single citizen of Thailand is free from poverty, the government must continue to invest in economic development and produce innovative jobs for vulnerable populations. Only then can all be free from the insufferable conditions that poverty produces.

Photo: Pixabay

Children with Developmental Disabilities
Across all countries, 20.4 percent of children have at least one developmental disability. In developed countries like the U.S., many schools have resources for children with developmental disabilities, but in countries where a solid implementation of an education system is struggling to find a foothold, people with learning disabilities often face an additional, invisible hurdle.

Medical professionals conducted a study that screened populations for developmental disabilities throughout the world. A developmental disability is a type of disability that occurs before adulthood. Some of these are learning disabilities, but all of them impact a child during the prime educational years. The study first sorted countries based on HDI (Human Development Index) a score the U.N. gives to countries according to life expectancy, education and gross domestic product (GDP). In general, this means that countries with higher HDI are more developed, and those with lower HDI are less developed.

Out of a pool of 16 countries, this study included 101,250 children averaging 5 years of age. The countries with the highest number of children with developmental disabilities include Thailand, Bangladesh and Iraq.

Thailand has an HDI of 0.755, Bangladesh has one of 0.608 and Iraq has one of 0.685. For scale, Norway has the highest HDI at 0.953. Thailand ranks 83rd in the world for high human development (though still developing), whereas Bangladesh and Iraq lay in the “medium developed” range.

Thailand 

The study concluded that Thailand had 12,911 children with a developmental disability. In Thailand, communities, professional groups and other social institutions provide education and learning centers, which serve as Thailand’s primary agents of education. Thailand has separate schools available for children with developmental disabilities. Thailand gives other resources, like communicative devices, to children with disabilities to aid in education. Thailand has different classifications of disabilities, like intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities and behavioral disorders, and different sorts of schooling options available to accommodate these different groups. The parents and the children can choose which system they would like to use, and it is available as a lifelong educational resource for them.

The Education for Development Foundation (EDF), founded in 1987, started a scholarship in 2003 with the intention of making education more accessible to children with developmental disabilities. This scholarship aims to support the physical, social and emotional development of Thai youth. To qualify, candidates must already demonstrate a certain level of communicative and learning ability.

Bangladesh 

The study also found that in Bangladesh, there were 36,987 children with developmental disabilities. It also determined that the rate of enrollment for a primary school in Bangladesh was 97 percent, but only 11 percent of disabled children received any sort of education.

Approaching education with respect to disabilities, methodical diagnosing and treating physical ailments is not possible. A child’s environment has a larger role in deciding how a disability might appear. As such, many early childhood education specialists recommend an approach that relies more on the stage of development the child is in to see what children with disabilities are capable of learning. Similar to how Thailand’s education system handles children with disabilities, Bangladesh has different types of schools to choose from. Unfortunately, that sort of data is not readily available or consistent.

Many international efforts to improve educational and social infrastructure have aimed to support the needs of children with developmental disabilities in impoverished countries. As a result of the UNESCO Declaration on Education for All (1990), the Dakar Framework (2000) and the Salamanca Declaration on Inclusive Education (1994), Bangladesh is working to offer children with developmental disabilities an inclusive education alongside able-bodied children.

While this sentiment does bring the needs of children with developmental disabilities to light, it is not sufficient in clearing various obstacles that arise. One study surveyed educators on the barriers of educating children with disabilities. The results were that 11 out of 15 respondents answered ‘yes’ to a lack of the proper instruments and learning materials.

Iraq

The study showed that Iraq had 11,163 children with developmental disabilities. Malnutrition, an issue in many developing countries, can inhibit cognitive development, leading to learning disabilities and difficulties.

Further, one in three children suffers from an iodine deficiency in the Iraq and Afghanistan areas. This deficiency can result in a slew of health issues including goiter, learning difficulties and severe mental impairment in the worst cases. Statistics have shown that this environmental factor contributes to the rate of mentally disabled individuals. This adds pressure on Iraq to determine adequate educational accommodations for children with developmental disabilities.

Although, since the Iraqi society is advancing technologically, there are diverse ways to deliver education to children. This means that a wider range of people can receive education, including children with developmental disabilities. The United Nations Children’s Fund launched a series of e-projects in an attempt to standardize accessible, inclusive learning. These projects were available to all students – disabled or otherwise. About 4,000 schools had access to these e-projects, not only making education accessible to all but also providing equity to education.

Solutions

Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI), established in 1981, works on behalf of all disabled individuals to give them a proper place in education, the workforce and society alongside able-bodied counterparts. DPI is active in 139 countries and seven regions, including Africa, Asia and the Middle East. DPI also develops educational materials, promotes the rights of disabled people and collects data on disability issues.

In working with MPhasiS F1 Foundation, the organization is creating a Global Youth with Disabilities Network. This network will advocate for the representation of children with developmental disabilities throughout all levels of decision-making. The organization plans to ensure these youths have access to public transportation, health care, education and employment opportunities.

Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Thailand
Many nations in the Global South face famine and hunger, prohibiting much of the population from meeting appropriate nutritional needs. In addition to the ongoing crisis of COVID-19, many food security reports are seeing increased malnourishment. Major inequalities have compromised proper access to food—of the 815 million people around the world who suffer from poverty, 6.5 million of those are from Thailand. Despite being a major food exporter that meets both global and domestic demands, hunger in Thailand is prevalent and there is still a worrying amount of households facing abject poverty.

Thailand’s Malnourished Population

Compared to other poorer nations such as Myanmar and Malaysia, Thailand’s malnourished population is considerably high. With ample food production in the country, much of the country’s problems reside in the food being readily available to its people. An estimated 17 percent of Thailand’s population suffers from malnourishment. This could be a direct result of a number of social inequalities, ultimately increasing the people who experience hunger in Thailand. While experts often cite frequent natural disasters and wars as reasons for high food insecurity, there are many other underlying factors, including economic instability and disproportionate ratios of distribution.

Rice in Thailand

Rice, which is the staple export in Thailand, has increased in demand and production over the years, especially during the COVID-19 spread. Thailand had maintained a level of self-sufficiency through its hefty supply of various meats (i.e. beef and pork) and the large scale production of grains. The domestic demand for rice production has increased at a rapid rate that has fueled much of the country’s economy. The number of rice exports increased from 1.3 million tons in 1971-1975 to just about 8.14 million tons in 2006 and 2007. With this in mind, however, a majority of people experience hunger in Thailand, making the nation unable to meet its own nutritional needs.

Battling Hunger in Thailand

In 2017, the government instituted preventative measures to combat food insecurity and hunger in Thailand. The nation announced a social assistance program that would serve as a safety net for poor families. This move aims to improve Thailand’s food insecurity to land amongst the ranks of middle-income countries. The program provides cash allowances and other subsidies for an estimated 12 million low-income families.

To be eligible, families must meet five criteria: being at least 18 years of age; a Thai citizen; unemployed or having an annual income below $3,055; no financial assets worth more than 100,000 Bahts; and no real estate. Once families meet these qualifications, they receive welfare cards that they can use to purchase goods at registered shops and transportation systems, costing approximately $1.4 million. There have been many faults since the program’s implementation; for example, the program does not count some people eligible despite meeting the five criteria.

The social systems in the nation are shifting consistently, meaning that the struggle of hunger in Thailand is evolving rapidly. The economic state that COVID-19 has caused is likely to impact Thailand’s ongoing battle with hunger. There is no certain answer to the issues that will arise among the ongoing crisis. Hunger in Thailand, as well as many other nations, is a lengthy battle.

Brittany Adames
Photo: Flickr

Hydropower Dams
A once thriving area for fishing and agriculture, the Mekong River Delta sports a dramatically different look than it did just a century ago. The river, historically wide and abundant, is characterized by large jigsaw puzzles of cracked earth where water has dried up and emptied villages where fishermen once thrived. The place has recently seen a mass exodus, with a million people resettling from southwestern Vietnam alone in the last decade.

Harmful Effects of Hydropower Dams

The region has long been one of the world’s largest inland fisheries, supporting 60 million Cambodians, Vietnamese, Thai and Laotians. It provides Vietnam with 50 percent of its food and 23 percent of its GDP, and Cambodia with 80 percent of its protein intake and 12 percent of its GDP. However, over the last couple of decades, hydropower dams have emerged along the river, threatening local communities and ecosystems while creating large amounts of renewable energy.

According to a UNESCO report, dams on the upper Mekong have resulted in a 70 percent reduction in sediment in the delta. By 2040, estimates determine that these and future dams will block 97 percent of the sediment that moves down the river. This sediment is critical for both rice production and fish life in the Mekong. The loss has been devastating.

Hydropower Dams are Detrimental to the Environment

Even with the detriment to rice production and fishing in the area, the lower Mekong region may still see more hydropower dams. Several countries have created plans to use the area for power, and not without reason. Estimates have determined that dams in the region should be able to produce 30,000 megawatts of electricity, which would be a massive boost to the power capacity of the lower Mekong.

Dams are also an opportunity for foreign investment and could be a huge boost to the GDP of these countries. In fact, the Mekong River Commission’s initial studies estimated that countries in the region could gain $30 billion from dam development, though more recent studies suggest that the area could lose as much as $7 billion from this construction. Despite this, the Mekong River Commission has advised a postponement on the building of these dams until it can further evaluate the risks, and because of the inequitable effects of building the dams, which would likely benefit urban elites while hurting rural farmers and fishermen.

Are there Positive Effects?

Some argue that the presence of these dams may have positive effects on fishing and rice production in the area due to an increased flow of water during dry seasons as dams release water, combatting the effects of drought. Whether this makes up for the loss of nutrient-rich silt and fish life is debatable. However, farmers have recently resorted to using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can be potentially harmful in the long-run, to boost their crop production.

Though it is unclear whether or not countries in the Lower Mekong Region will continue their plans to build hydropower dams, it is certain that farmers and fishermen will continue to suffer as long as the delta is victim to the already present dams in China and the effects of climate change. However, on a lighter note, there has been a recent increase in international aid and development to the Lower Mekong Region, as well as an effort to maintain biodiversity and create sanctuaries for fish and new fish reserves. Hopefully, these countries will manage to balance the poverty-alleviating industrialization that comes with hydropower, and a shift to industrialized agriculture with the interests of rural farmers, fishermen and biodiversity in the region in mind.

– Ronin Berzins
Photo: Flickr