A Message from Dr. Somsak Chunharas

“Development needs long-term vision and continuity of wisdom.”

This is the statement and vision of our President Emeritus, Prof. Prawase Wasi. His words of wisdom continued, “You can hope to have wisdom when you don’t seek power. You can influence development if you are engaged and create participatory processes for public policy development.”

This is what we at the Thailand National Health Foundation (NHF) have identified as our mission: To support knowledge-based health system development. As a non-governmental institution, we are just one small part of a much larger and complex policy development process, but we are inspired by Prof. Prawase’s vision that one of the vital parts of the triangle that moves the mountain is knowledge. Many may like to use the word evidence, but we believe knowledge is much deeper, broader and encompassing. More importantly, it connotes the need for “learning” and not just “informing.”

Dr. Somsak Chunharas
Dr. Somsak Chunharas, NHF President

Historically, NHF started as a mechanism to promote research that would be relevant for policy decisions, a mission which is the legacy of the National Epidemiology Board of Thailand supported by the Rockefeller Foundation in the mid-1980’s. We worked closely not only on the supply side, but also with the demand side, keeping in mind that the demand side is large and does not mean only policymakers who are in power, but also includes the population at-large. For ultimately it is the general public’s lives that will be affected by the public policy decisions of the systems that they live in.

The Thai health system is known for its use of evidence and knowledge from various levels of healthcare workers to shape policy direction and to build a stronger, more participatory health system. Ever since both the first western hospital and the Ministry of Public Health were established in Thailand around 100 years ago, the evolution and the dynamic of the Thai health system confirm that generation and utilization of relevant information, evidence, and knowledge is crucial to the continuous evolution to best fit the changing environment and support the health of the Thai people. NHF saw that very strong nature of the Thai health system and has determined to be a part of that endeavour, keeping in mind that bureaucratic administration and political systems demand changes in leadership which might unavoidably affect continuity of wisdom.

The last 40 years of NHF has seen increasing interest and effort by the population to activate citizens to be a part of Thai health system development. While people are engaged at the grassroots level, they have become increasingly keen to also share their knowledge, concerns, and insights to better shape and help guide policy and health system direction and development of the country. What is equally interesting is the strength of the public healthcare workforce, which amounts to over 100,000 individuals working in various parts of the health system inside and outside of Bangkok, who are not merely following orders but have made positive contributions to interpret and shape policy implementation and policy directions through their “practical knowledge.” NHF believes evidence-based and knowledge-based policy and system development has been made possible because of the active engagement of these key actors in the health system.

While over the last 40 years NHF has gone through several phases in shaping and reshaping its business model, our guiding principles and ultimate goal have remained focused on public benefits, active participation, networking, integrity, and learning. We will continue to play our part as a health system ally by offering a helping hand to those who are striving to improve our health system. As a small part of the much larger health policy and system development world, we aim to find the right entry points to make our strategic contribution and we will continue to adapt and do so regardless of changes in political and administrative leadership, and the larger changing economic, social, physical, and political environment.

In what people love to refer to as a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous) world full of disruption, we are aware that our role and business model will have to change over time. We plan to be futuristic and forward looking in engaging the larger health policy community to address important challenges and opportunities facing our society. These include issues such as creating real value from our investment in universal health coverage policies by building trust and working dynamics in the health system based on primary health care supported by various new technologies and changing social and political environments. Digital technologies will profoundly reimagine future health systems and will impact the ways in which various new platforms will need to be better balanced for social good and not merely for business and political gains. Strong community and local initiatives will also have to become an integral part of overall development, the very essence of “holistic health” that goes beyond health care but is key to “good health.”

Disruption came about through technology but also through ideas making their way into collective action. We have to make sure we capitalize on and contribute to positive disruption for our health systems and we do hope and believe that Thailand as a country will be dynamic enough and its policy mechanisms and system structure will not be too rigid to respond and find new ways of working. NHF aims to be a useful partner and ally to everybody who wishes to see an improved and ever-evolving health system for the Thai people, inspired and influenced by stronger grassroots engagement and innovation.

– Dr. Somsak Chunharas