The above figures, however, cloud important inequalities between the regions in Thailand. The Northeastern part of Thailand, of which Udon Thani is a part, had a population of 17,814,000 in 1984 and 15,294 hospital beds. The Bangkok Metropolitan alone had a population of 5,923,000 and 19,379 hospital beds. While Bangkok only had a third of the population of the Northeast, the city actually had more hospital beds (World Health Organization 1988).
There are other figures which show the inequalities between regions in terms of health care. In the Fourth Five Year plan (1977-1981) provision was made to introduce free medical care for the poorer sections of the population. The following categories were eligible for free care:
(a) single people with an income of less than baht 1,500 a month;
(b) married couples whose total income was less than baht 2,000 a month;
(c) their children under 20, and over 20 years if they were mentally or physically disabled.
In addition, children under five whose parents were poor and people over 60 were entitled to free medical care (Mills 1991: 1241-42).
The Northeast has both the highest percentage of its population classified as poor and the highest total number of poor. Twenty five percent of the Thai population were classified as living in absolute poverty following World Bank criteria and 50% of these poor live in the Northeast. In spite of these figures “...those regions which had the greatest numbers of poor people received relatively less of the Free Medical Care Budget, especially the Northeast” (Mills 1991: 1244). The per capita allocation in the Northeast was as low as 4.7 baht as compared to Baht 8.4 for Bangkok or an average of baht 6.3 for the kingdom as such (survey figures from 1975/1976)(ibid).
It is estimated that there are about 200 health centres in Udon Thani province which is a 100% increase compared to 10 years ago (Dr Chin, former chief of public health Udon Thani, personal communication). The number of bio-medical drugstores (license 1-5) has also increased, while those specializing in traditional medicines have decreased in number from 136 to 75. However, the number of factories making traditional medicines has increased from 12 to 14. The explanation may be that people in the rural areas show less and less interest in traditional medicines and there are therefore fewer traditional pharmacies in these areas. On the other hand, urban people with higher purchasing power seem to be quite interested in traditional medicines which may account for the two new factories.
This trend provides an interesting contrast to the official policy of promoting herbs for home growing and use. The tendency in the population seems to be a specialization and urbanization of herbal medicines while the bio-medical drugs are taking over the rural markets. However, herbs are still not used in public hospitals on a routine basis and there is no official control over herbal remedies (i.e. contra-indications, side-effects).
In the city of Udon Thani itself there are 3 public hospitals and 3 private hospitals. Furthermore, there is a mobile public clinic under the auspices of the queen mother and one night-time venereal disease clinic. Private medical clinics number 49, all of these belonging to doctors. There are 14 private dental clinics and 8 dental technicians’ clinics. There are only 5 clinics for traditional medicines,