Prince Mahidol of Songkhla, the father of the present king, studied at Harvard Medical School and introduced Western medicine to Thailand. Today, the country has both public and private hospitals. Public hospitals are government subsidized, and fees are charged according to the patient's income. In rural areas, public health centres offer primary care. Private institutions generally have higher standards and are more expensive. Physicians or hospitals set their own fees.

Thais use many traditional remedies to treat illness. Yaa klaang baan, the root and stemof baw raphet (a type of climbing plant), is used to bring down fever. Another plant, raak cha-phluu, is used to treat stomach ailments. Thai herbs, including phrik thai (black pepper), bai kra-plow and bai maeng-lak (two types of basil), are believed to preserve good health.

Nuat boraan, traditional Thai massage, is an ancient form of therapy. It is related to Chinese acupuncture and Indian yoga. It releases blocked channels of energy and soothes tired muscles. It relaxes and strengthens the patient and balances the four elements of earth, water, fire and air. Recently, reflexology has become popular in Thailand.

Air pollution causes many health problems in Bangkok. Traffic police stationed at busy intersections wear face masks to protect themselves from automobile fumes. They also have "respite booths" with oxygen tanks and receive regular health checks. A recent study found that 34% of Bangkok's police officers suffer from loss of hearing and 23% from lung disease.

   Did you know?
When a Thai is hospitalized, family members or friends stay with the patient. Rooms in private hospitals usually provide sleeping space for at least one companion for each patient.
AIDS and HIV infections increased in Thailand in the 1980s and 1990s. Meechai Veravaithaya, Director of Thailand's Population and Community Development Association, began a program of public education to help control the spread of AIDS. He was awarded the prestigious Magsaysay Award in 1994. Nevertheless, the disease still threatens many Thais.

   Did you know?
In 1811, two boys joined at the chest were born in a village near Bangkok. They travelled the world and became celebrities, but they were never able to find a surgeon who could separate them. Since then, twins who are joined at birth have been called Siamese twins.