Thai Innovation List to ensure local research is put to use, rather than just producing good ideas.
“I have a sincere belief and I often use it to provoke thoughts from people around me: if science and engineering are truly good, then Thai people in general must benefit from them.”
So says Professor Dr. Pairash Thajchayapong in a special interview with The Story Thailand about his decades of devotion to the application of research in Thailand, which has earned him respect and recognition both at home and abroad.
He is director of the Assistive Technology and Medical Devices Research Center (A-MED) and senior adviser to the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA).
Pairash is known as the man who laid the foundation for the NSTDA and oversaw its growth, as well as that of the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC). Both have become well-established state agencies.
He has also been the driving force behind many research projects that have brought benefits to Thai society, particularly in the medical and public-health sectors.
Pairash admits that his personal belief often helps to create a well-defined goal, so that a research team get a clear picture of what to do, how to do it, and with whom or with which agency.
He says that workable research and development (R&D) projects are an indicator of a country’s success.
The more powerful and publicly beneficial R&D works a country has, the quicker it will achieve progress. Moreover, such nations can be assured of stable and sustainable growth in the long term.
Pairash’s passion for research is something that has grown stronger as he has grown older. He is convinced that successful research is the first hurdle that Thailand must clear if it is to become truly “technology independent”. The country has to be technologically self-reliant.
However, this doesn’t mean that Thai researchers have to come up with innovations that are ‘world firsts’ of their kind. Rather, their efforts should lead to innovations that benefit Thai people, and with regular and constant research based on previous work both within Thailand and overseas, knowledge and expertise will gradually accumulate.
“Thailand has become familiar with modernization without development. That means we want to progress without improving ourselves. We are more interested in buying than developing domestically,” Pairash says.
By stressing quick results, Thailand will find itself at a disadvantage in the long term, he warns. In fact, it appears as if Thailand is “spending taxpayer’s money to fund industrial development in other countries”.
Making medical tools on the basis of society’s needs
Explaining himself, Pairash stresses that Thailand is not short of researchers. On the contrary, the country has many capable researchers who have done, and are doing, outstanding work. However, when some research results are published, a lot of researchers have been approached by foreign businesses with plans to convert their work into commercial products. This has led Pairash to the conclusion that the problem with Thai R&D is the fact that researchers choose issues of study that do not really respond to their country’s problems or needs.
Fortunately, he says, he was the given the opportunity to oversee the government’s R&D project to develop medical devices and tools. This was an area with which he was familiar, and his work on the project has convinced him that to ensure maximum benefit to Thai society, the development of medical devices has to be based mainly on the needs of local users and Thai people.
Also, cooperation is required from state agencies and private businesses, including government hospitals, all over the country, in order to determine what medical devices and tools are in high demand in Thailand. Therefore, the next step is to find supporters for the research.
All research works must be registered on the Thai Innovation List, which requires that innovations produced in Thailand must have properties comparable to those of foreign equivalents, must meet international standards, and must be competitively priced. There is also a rule requiring the government to purchase 30 per cent of innovations arising from research works on the list.
When asked about the need to register on the Thai Innovation List, Pairash says the goal is for research findings to be put into actual use, and not end up simply as good innovative ideas.
“Certainly, it’s not easy for new products to compete with those already on the market. But without making new products, we won’t be able to progress anywhere. And I believe that with our wisdom, patience and perseverance, we will see evolution and improved standards. When the time is right, people will come to us.”
It is therefore not surprising that A-MED has recently produced a host of research works beneficial to Thai society. These include a CT scanner, “DentiiScan”, for dental computed tomography; an X-ray machine; and most recently, “BodiiRay”, for digital chest radiography. The latter has proved to be vital in tackling the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus situation.
Medical devices for security and equality in Thai society
Pariash points out that technological advancement is an important weapon for any country that is involved in international competition. For instance, by becoming self-reliant in producing medical devices, Thailand can build security and equality.
The economic security achieved helps Thailand to save a lot of money that would otherwise be spent on purchasing foreign-made products. Instead, the money saved can change hands domestically and contribute to national development in other areas.
At the same time, poor people and those without disposable incomes can be given access to high-quality, efficient health services. The achievement of this kind of equality can bring security to Thai society in the long term.
Pairash comments: “It’s like we cook dishes for our own family, so that we have enough food for everyone. But if we order food from outside, we may not be able to afford to feed the whole family.”
He believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has reflected Thailand’s need to develop its own technologies; to be self-reliant in this area and to make it possible for Thais to be able to access high technologies at affordable prices.
As someone with long years of experience in the research circles, Pairash calls on Thai researchers and scientists to always think of their country.
“Whatever you are doing, you must ask what Thailand will gain. The ‘gain for Thailand’ should eventually cover everyone in the country, and result in decreased social gaps,” he says.