Siriraj Hospital names Songkhla doctor as the 'finest'
A doctor who dedicated his life to improving health care in his hometown, the predominantly Muslim district of Thepha in Songkhla, has been named finest rural doctor of the year by the prestigious Siriraj Hospital, the nation's oldest school of medicine.
One of Dr Suwat Wiriyapongsakij's remarkable successes came from his integration of modern medicine and religious practices.
Penis infections and bleeding were common among Muslims because circumcisions were not being carried out properly, said the 41-year-old director of Thepha community hospital.
A Muslim must carry out the circumcision, although often no one within a community had the skills to carry out that most delicate of operations. He said some people were also not concerned about the medical problems that arose from badly performed circumcisions.
In response, Suwat organised mass annual circumcision rites, encouraging the community to come to the ceremony where he gathered qualified Islamic medics to provide proper circumcisions.
The doctor also trained Islamic nurses in the procedure and the number of circumcision bleedings and infections was reduced dramatically. Five years ago Suwat, who graduated with a master's degree in public health from the Leopold Institute of Tropical Medicine in Belgium, joined a nationwide study of the impact of a child's environment on their development, until they reached the age of 24. Suwat said the study, which included Thepha, was the first of its kind in Thailand.
After graduating from Mahidol University at Ramathibodi Hospital, the doctor chose to move to Thepha. He once ran a medical institution in Ayutthaya but left after a couple of years. "I am a country boy," said Suwat, who is married with two sons.
Years ago Suwat said he congratulated another doctor at the Siriraj award ceremony but never thought one day his name would be read out. "I am very honoured and proud," said Suwat at Siriraj Hospital, where he received Bt150,000.
Suwat also played a crucial role in bringing to justice the culprits in the Public Health Ministry's drug-procurement scandal while he was president of the Rural Doctors Society that uncovered the scandal in 1998.