COVID-19 Op-ed

Rethinking the Crisis of Liberal Capitalism After COVID-19 Pandemic: From the Perspective of Public Healthcare System

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Yunkang LiuMAIDS, Faculty of
Political Science of Chulalongkorn University

The global pandemic of COVID-19 started around December 2019,
and this major public health crisis has a huge negative impact on countries’
economies and societies around the world. For example, public health threats,
economic depression, rising poverty, and social instability have exacerbated
new social conflicts and de-globalization. Although the pandemic situation in
the Southeast Asian region has been gradually under control by launching some
measures such as border closure or travel ban, it is also important to rethink
the role of the public healthcare system to manage major public health crises
after the COVID-19 pandemic.Based on the concept of the Washington consensus,
the state encouraged the privatization and liberalized market economy, which
may contribute to the prosperity of the national economy and promote
innovation. Adams Smith also described the market as the “invisible hand” in
his book “Wealth of Nations”. Some ASEAN countries’ authorities
have promoted the privatization and marketization of national healthcare
sectors, which has improved mechanisms for increased efficiency and quality
of health services, and meet the diverse needs of patients. On the other
hand, countries have also realized the limitations of healthcare industry
privatization in solving the public health crisis faced with the COVID-19
pandemic, especially the medical and health industry is facing the problem of
market failure (Ghosh, 2008). Privatized healthcare systems may improve
efficiency or growth in the short-run, but reduce countries’ long-term
preparedness for dealing with pandemics (Jacob & Cecilia, 2020).In
the case of Thailand, Thailand’s healthcare ranked sixth-best in the world
(Bangkok Post, 2019). Almost 1,400 hospitals and medical facilities in Thailand,
378 are private hospitals, and more than 60 are accredited by the Joint
Commission International (Bangkok Post, 2020). Through privatization and
marketization to improve the quality level of medical services, and increase
medical practice revenue. However, although private hospitals provide
first-class medical facilities and services, the medical cost is also high
for the local citizens. After the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Thailand,
the local public health departments mainly send confirmed patients to public
hospitals for treatment at low cost or free. At the same time, compared with
the cost of virus testing, the average cost of public hospitals is also lower
than private hospitals (Thaienquirer, 2020). The World Health Organization
(WHO) and the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand highlight some of the
factors that have allowed Thailand to successfully control COVID-19,
including strong leadership that responds to the best scientific evidence,
and a strong underlying public health system. For example, Thailand’s
Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC) is one of the low-cost healthcare systems
which are mainly implemented in public hospitals. Universal Healthcare
Coverage (UHC) does not only protect people from expensive health expenditure,
and also enables Thailand to mobilize health finance in response to health
crises, and provide essential health services and interventions to control
COVID-19 effectively (NHSO, n.d.).Generally, public hospitals are responsible
for providing public healthcare services and public medical welfare. In the
face of large-scale infectious diseases, the local public departments can
integrate medical resources through macro-control, coordination, and
intervention to better control the virus. It is important to encourage the
public healthcare sector to continue and increase its efforts to safeguard
the welfare of underprivileged and low-income beneficiary populations while
pursuing a privatization policy (Russo, 1994). Although private hospitals
take an important role in promoting the development of the national
healthcare industry and medical tourism economy. It is undeniable that public
hospitals are playing an irreplaceable role in coping with the public health
crisis, and provide the basic needs of healthcare services to the general
public. Meanwhile, the public healthcare system is also a guarantee to ensure
most citizens can enjoy the equal “Right to Health”. For local
authorities, it is also necessary to rethink how to balance the relationship
between public and private health systems, to achieve long-term strategic and
inclusive development for the future.Reference:Bangkok
Post. (2019). Thailand’s healthcare ranked sixth best in the world. Available
Post. (2020). Thailand Races Ahead as Global Healthcare Hub. Available
B. N. (2008). “Rich doctors and poor patients: Market failure and health care
systems in developing countries”. Journal of Contemporary
Assa & Cecilia Calderon. (2020). “Privatization and Pandemic: A
Cross-Country Analysis of COVID-19 Rates and Health-Care Financing
Structures”. New School for Social Research, Department of Economics.
Health Security Office (NHSO). (n.d.). Secretary-General of Thailand’s National
Health Security Office (NHSO). Available at:,
G. (1994). The Role of the Private Sector in Health Services: Lessons for
ASEAN. ASEAN Economic Bulletin,
11(2), 190-211. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from
(2020). Thailand’s private hospitals are charging a fortune to test for
Covid; no it’s not profiteering, it’s much worse. Available at:
Health Organization (WHO). (2020). The Ministry of Public Health and the
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