BANGKOK: Thai celebrity Athiwara Khongwalai – popularly known as “Toon Bodyslam” – is on a mission.
As of Monday (Nov 13), the popular singer has run about 500km in 11 days as part of a cross-country marathon to raise money for 11 public hospitals in Thailand.
Starting from Betong in Thailand’s southernmost district of Yala province and finishing at the district of Mae Sai in Chiang Rai, near Thailand’s northern border with Myanmar, his goal is to run 2,191km over 55 days.
This is not the first time that the singer is running to get a donation for hospital.
Back in December 2016, he ran 400km and raised more than US$2.4 million. This time, he aims to raise US$21 million.
The singer told Channel NewsAsia he chose to do a marathon instead of other things such as putting on a concert as this would not cost as much to organise.
“I’m a singer not a professional athlete,” he said. “People asked me why I don’t organise a concert to raise money for those hospitals.”
“But there’s a cost for that and we might end up with a small amount of money which is not enough to buy equipment that those hospitals need,” he added.
“So, I thought: What if I use nothing but myself to raise money? What if I use nothing but myself to run in order reflect the issue and get some donation(s) along the way?”
In the 2017 financial year, Thailand’s ministry of public health received US$7.7 billion – a sum which more than a thousand public hospitals in the country have to rely on.
This has resulted in a budget shortfall for many such hospitals in rural areas.
Responding to criticisms that his campaign is just a stunt and that it will not solve the issue in the long run, Toon told Channel NewsAsia that he does not expect to be applauded for his efforts.
“I don’t need any praises. I’m not a hero or a special one,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m just a bridge that connects Thai people to learn about the issue.”
“Those who deserve praise and recognition are doctors and nurse who work in a tough environment.”
Toon’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Even British distance runner, Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah sent his well-wishes to cheer him on.
“Keep running @artiwara,” Farah wrote on Facebook, along with a photo of him holding a shoe with the message “To Toon. Keep on running!”
“Leave all your records behind. The next step is a new start.”
More than 48 million Thais – or 75 per cent of the country’s population – rely on universal healthcare from the government, according to Thailand’s ministry of public health, and these numbers are rising every year.
In this respect, Toon said his campaign also serves to raise awareness about healthy living.
“There’s this one thing that I want the most from this campaign, is that they (the Thai people) see me running and want to get up and exercise and look after their health,” he said.
“I think that will be a sustainable solution to fix the issue of full public hospitals.”
THAI DOCTORS MOVING TO PRIVATE SECTOR
Working in a public hospital can be tough for doctors and nurses in Thailand.
Long hours, large numbers of patients and a bureaucratic system have resulted in a large migration of medical personnel to the private sector.
Leaving the public sector is also one way doctors can do more to help patients, said Dr Witawat Siripracha, who used to be a director at Lanta Hospital in Thailand’s southern Krabi province.
“If you really want to help the patients, go join (the) private sector,” he said. “Not only (will that take) care of you better, but they have the resources and capabilities to help the patient.”
Another doctor, Dr Somkiat Kijthumchate, told Channel NewsAsia that he has been running his own small clinic in Krabi for more than 26 years.
He does not charge more than 500 baht (US$15) and tells his patients never to take out loans if they cannot afford to pay.
Instead, Dr Somkiat said he is willing to treat the patient until he or she is fully healed without charging a single dime.
“I was able to graduate from a medical school with a public scholarship, and it’s my job as a doctor to do my very best to see that my patients are healed from sickness,” he said. “If patients can’t afford to pay for the bill, we (doctors) have to treat them with the best of our abilities because it’s our job.”
“They (patients) already suffer enough from their illness – the sooner they are healed, the better.”