The success of Abhaibhubejhr is well-regarded and documented in the medicinal and social enterprise circles. To the people, it has made good medicine available to the hands of low-income. To the economy, it has modeled and proved a practical medicine social enterprise and taken the industry to the new level.
Revenue of Abhaibhubejhr has reached 200 million baht in 2011 (about 6.5M USD) and on course to its target of 300 million baht in 2012. As a foundation, Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital (CAF) has earned its achievement with no big marketing budget to entertain the market, actually it has none at all. Apart from government publicity, the merit gospel is spread on the people media like the trustworthy Thai daily newspapers Bangkok Post, television variety programs or university radios.
All purchase, wholesale or retail, is made in cash without any credit. This proves very important to its operation cash flow. 70% of net profit returns to support the hospital operation and R&D initiatives. It has also put great effort in the development of its supply chain both ends, the organic herb and plant suppliers and product distributors. The farmers would be given the training of organic farming technique by the foundation and contract selling the products direct to the hospital without middlemen, at the price up to 50% higher than market rate which all return to the quality of the herbs. The herbal shops get all the support of information needed and its product retail price is always kept within reach of common people.
The powerhouse behind the success of Abhaibhubejhr is Supaporn Pitiporn, the 51-year-old chief pharmacist, who had endured with her colleagues the hardship of 30-year work in bringing the herbal medicine to Thai people. The journey is started back in the 1980’s when her friend and forerunner Supoj Assawapantanakul had made a breakthrough in gaining recognition of common herbs, like fa talai jone and turmeric, by National Healthcare Policy for the first time.
The medicine has found its acceptance not only in upcountry but also in urban cities, given the setting in which modern drugs are ubiquitous and no one would ever imagine herbal drugs in well-design packaging on display in air-conditioned supermarket. In one of her research papers, she had scientifically categorized consumers of herbal products into 6 groups according to their behavior and decision process. Apart of normal marketing groups, one is characterized by urban lifestyle white collars who value and kindle the old legacy.
The same paper also acknowledged the group of customers who consume herbal drugs at the recommendation of physicians, and another group who based their purchase on scientific research and findings.
Though it may have gain its feet on the ground but still TTM usage is minuscule compared to modern medicine. Thai domestic medicine market has value of 100 billion baht of which 70% are import drugs. Government has been pushing policies to widespread the use of Thai medicine, especially in government hospitals. Currently there are 71 Thai herbal medicines stated in the National List of Essential Medicines that can be formulated and prescribed in the hospitals nationwide.
With the advent of technology traditional drug is easier to consume today. In the past, A dose of Ya Mor, a recipe mix of herbs slowly boiled in clay pot used in most remedies, would not take less than 3 hours to prepare, and half a day wait is not unusual. Nowadays, the capsule version in blister foil can be carried anywhere.
Still one hardly finds Thai medicine in the neighborhood drugstore where all modern drugs are easier to sell and at higher margin.
In a short speech by His Majesty King Chulalongkorn Rama V (1853-1910), he shared his concern of the diminishing of Thai medicine physicians at the hands of popularity gained by western doctors, of which he personally found the examining too cold to his liking. He would prefer to consult Thai medicine physicians and at last asked for the continue legacy of the practice to benefit people. The verse is highly regarded and practiced by Supaporn and Thai medicine personnel.
At its foundation, Thai medicine chiefly is for enhancing body immunities and promoting natural healing process. People in the old times integrate and practice it in daily lives. The use of herb is much as food as in drug. This exposes its acceptability to modern-time patients who habitually have all expectations the illness is cured overnight.
In order to get certified as Thai medicine pharmacist, one has to complete Thai medic practitioner course in a government approved school. It takes two years of attending classroom and field course followed by the one-for-all final examination. The potential as an alternative medicine for Thai society has been recognized academically as well, the 4-year full-time bachelor of TTM curriculum has been developed and enrolled students in universities throughout Thailand since 2004.
Apart from herbal medicine, Thai Traditional Medicine also involve Thai massage, which is rather well-known to foreigners compare to helpful herbs. Curious tourists may just chat and wonder about Thai viagra but mostly they would have a try on Thai massage, in which a small parlour can be found not only near the tourist hubs but everywhere in the country.
At large trade exhibition or museums, one can spend around 8 US dollar to enjoy a 30-minute foot massage after a long walk at a makeshift parlour with only blinds and pool bench. However, every masseuse is all well-trained and certified by authority. Just like Thai food, Thai massage service to foreigners tends to be on the softer side and less aggressive, purposely for soothing stress and calmness. On the other side, the Thai version can be much about pressing, pinching or cracking joints and bone to the right place to gain back strength and nimbleness. It takes a little while to get used to but once in the habit, one cannot live without it.