The 1981 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service
CITATION for Prawase Wasi
Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies
31 August 1981, Manila, Philippines
During the seven and a half centuries since the Thai peoples migrated from the north they were periodically decimated by cholera, plague and smallpox epidemics following floods in the productive central plain; malaria, yaws, gastroenteritis and intestinal parasites were endemic. Christian missionaries and doctors from the Rockefeller Foundation bringing modern medicine to the kingdom had to overcome superstition among the elite and ignorance among commonerswho drank from the same canals where they bathed and dumped refuse. Thereafter medical schools and clinical practice steadily improved and in the 1930s the new constitutional government regulated markets, abattoirs and crematoria, and instituted standards for licensing and training pharmacists and physicians. The kingdom today has an increasing number of distinguished medical doctors.
Thailand, however, shares with her South and Southeast Asian neighbors the continuing problem of trained doctors and good hospitals concentrating in the capital and other major cities. Like medical practitioners elsewhere, many doctors tend to treat their profession as a business and even a government-salaried physician assigned upcountry usually attends most readily to his social peers.
Dr. PRAWASE WASI, in his rise from poor farmer's son to university professor, has shown that the medical profession offers an opportunity to serve others and one's country consequentially. Born 50 years ago at Kanchanaburi in the Khwae River Valley near Burma, PRAWASE saw as a boy that the rich could do something about their lives while the poor were helpless, and he vowed to aid them. He worked his way through school and received the gold medal for the highest academic achievement in his class at the government Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, University of Medical Sciences, from which he graduated in 1955. After three and a half years of advanced study in hematology at the University of Colorado, and in human genetics at London University, he returned in 1961 to join the Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, in the newly named Mahidol University of which he is Vice Rector for Planning and Development.
Dr. PRAWASE is one of the world's leading hematologists, most notably identifying the genetic mechanism of alpha thalassemia, a blood disease prevalent among Thais and other Southeast Asian and Mediterranean peoples. He has published more than 100 articles in scientific journals, and scientists come from around the world to work with him.
Equally public-health oriented, he edited Handbook for Health of the People to which he and 10 prominent physicians, pharmacists and public health doctors contributed practical advice for rural and urban families. His Household Doctor is a compilation of his answers to medical questions published in a popular magazine. He is also editor and publisher of the monthly Folk Doctor magazine. Ever concerned that medical services should meet the needs of all, he campaigned against official plans to build four 1,000-bed hospitals rather than a number of simple clinics within the reach of villagers. He won provision for a hospital in every district in the current five-year national health plan, and helped organize training for village headmen and Buddhist monks in primary health care.
Withal Dr. PRAWASE's greatest contribution is his inspired teaching. To his medical students he advocates: "go where the problems of health are most urgent; among the poor mostly in rural villages." His focus upon community healthalong with heightened social awareness among students and concern with rural problems gradually being shown by other teachershas resulted in an increasing number of medical graduates making careers in the rural areas.
Gentle in manner and modest in lifestyle, as is his physician wife, he has become the model of the dedicated medical practitioner whose goal is service.
In electing PRAWASE WASI to receive the 1981 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his research contributions to medical science while prompting his profession to make modern health care available to the poor.
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