social determinants of health

How self-produced medicines have increased tribal agency and reduced health disparities in Thailand

Modern healthcare is fraught with inequality. The U.S. private system suffers from exorbitant treatment costs, turns a blind eye to chronic conditions, and reflects disparities by ethnicity and socioeconomic status—all of which remain significant barriers to public health. On a global stage, similar patterns are evident: pharmaceutical companies are hesitant to expand into developing countries where they may not profit. However, to combat these disparities, some communities have found agency by producing their own medicine in a sustainable way. In this post, we’ll explore how the Karen (/kəˈrɛn/) tribes of Thailand have found a solution to an issue plaguing the world.

social determinants of health

The public health crisis on the Thailand-Myanmar border: Struggles of the Karen tribal peoples

“Anada (name changed) was abandoned in the toilet pan at birth. Neighbors discovered her some hours later, and we took her to the hospital. The high level of infection caused cataracts and cornea scarring, leaving her blind.”

Having grown up in the confines of American suburbia, I was shocked when I heard this story.

I was in conversation with Catherine Ruth-Riley discussing the public health situation on the Thailand-Myanmar border. Having founded a school for orphans, Catherine has worked in the border region for over two decades, driven by her mission of helping the Karen (/kəˈrɛn/) people, who exist at the margins of society on the border between Myanmar and Thailand. Catherine’s candid depictions of adversity and courage painted a portrait of the Karen people marked by not only their struggles, but also, hope for a path to improvement.