VIOLENCE and death on the streets of Bangkok last month sit uneasily with Thailand’s image as a peaceful home to a large expatriate community. The country is one of the strongest among emerging economies.

Its medical services have improved significantly over the past 20 years. But more needs to be done. An indication can be gained from the fact that annual spending on healthcare amounts to less than five per cent of GDP. That’s half the proportion going on health in western Europe and a third of the proportion of GDP in North America.

Of course, there is often little correlation between the size of a care budget and the health of its users. Even so, Thais do not do particularly well compared to some other nationalities.

Infant mortality, the universal measure of healthcare, was nine per 1,000 live births in 2008, while most western nations would be under five deaths per 1,000 live births. Even so, this is progress: in 1990 the infant death rate was almost triple the current figure, at 26 per 1,000 live births.

Life expectancy at birth in 2008 was 69 years – but has since improved. That’s better than neighbouring Cambodia (61) but worse than Vietnam (74) for the same year.

What to do

Some hospitals still have general physicians or family doctors. It is worth seeking them out. Consult within the expat community, or contact nearby hospitals.

If insured, contact your medical insurer. Good providers will have a 24-hour helpline and may be able to suggest a hospital specialising in the relevant area. In any case, policyholders are nearly always required to pre-notify their insurer before arranging an appointment, except in emergencies.