Floating ambulance saving lives on Thai resort islands

Thailand is legendary for its floating markets, but tourists visiting remote resort islands in the Andaman Sea can enjoy peace of mind as Thai health officials have launched a “floating ambulance” service – three fully equipped medical boats – that have already saved seven lives this tourist season, officials said last week.

“We have developed public health services for 23 coastal marine provinces. Maritime Emergency Care Systems (Maritime ECS) are now being provided in marine tourism areas to better cope with the rising numbers of tourists,” said Dr. Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, the Minister of Public Health.

The number of tourists visiting Thailand has continued to set national records and is expected to surpass 40 million this year. As more visitors explore the Kingdom, more of them seek out less crowded and more unique experiences, increasing the popularity and number of visitors to islands that are far from the coast and the top-flight medical services available on the mainland.

The floating ambulance is part of the Andaman Hub Medical Network, headquartered in Takua Pa in Phang Nga province just north of the island resort of Phuket. While Phuket, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge, has modern hospitals that are easily accessible, tourists traveling further afield to the Similan and Surin Islands can be hours away from full and advanced medical care.

“Since the medical center was launched last year, there have now been a total of 5,466 patients of which 28 percent are foreigners. Three boat ambulances from the Royal Thai Navy, which are stationed at Surin and Similan Islands have saved victims from England, German and China. All were potential drowning incidents,” the minister said.

Seven of those rescued were in critical condition.

“We are expecting to decrease the number of deaths from marine accidents by at least 25 percent. We hope we can aim for even better services in the future,” he added.

The boats also carry medical equipment and supplies for doctors and clinics on the far-flung islands.

Provincial Health Office chief Dr. Naretrit Khatthasima said the boats are part of a sea-based public-health action plan that addresses medical emergencies around islands and national marine parks.