Dr Sem, devoted physician, dies of natural causes at age 100

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BANGKOK, July 8 –  Former public health minister Dr Sem Pringpuangkeo who pioneered modern medicine and medical service in Thailand’s rural areas, died of natural causes at the age of 100, early Friday.

Traditional Thai Buddhist bathing rites will be held at Rajavithi Hospital at 3pm Friday and Saturday his body will be moved to That Thong temple seven days of funeral prayer.

Chatchawal Pringpuangkeo, his son said that Dr Sem died of natural causes at 4.50am Friday after being in Rajavithi Hospital since October last year.

Dr Sem was a social thinker involved in social activities in medicine, public health and education for over half a decade.

He was a Bangkok native and born on May 31, 1911. He attended Wat Barom Nivarajchaworaviharn School near his home for four years before entering secondary school at Debsirin School.

With the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, he studied at the Chulalongkorn University Faculty of Medicine and after graduation he continued studies in England and Germany. He gained experience attending conferences and study visits in the United States, Brazil, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, Indonesia, Austria, New Zealand, and China.

Dr Sem was a respected person, a pragmatist who benefited the public.

His life and his work is exemplary not only the early steps of Thailand’s medical studies and public health reform, but his work and dedication also can inspire people in the next generation.

At age 24 after graduation from medical school in 1935, Dr Sem was assigned to Samut Songkhram to eradicate cholera.

In 1937 he served as the first director of Chiangrai Provincial Hospital, currently known as Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital.

He managed the hospital from local donations as the hospital faced a shortage of staff and facilities.

Besides his role in development of public healthcare in rural areas, Dr Sem was instrumental in the establishment of Thailand’s first blood bank in 1950, which is one of his striking works.

In 1951, he was the director of Rajavithi Hospital, formerly known as Women’s Hospital and established Children’s Hospital under the policy of the government of Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram to cut the death rate of mothers and infants.

He was renowned for his distinguished work in surgically separating conjoined twins at Bangkok’s Children’s Hospital in 1955, the first successful case of such an operation in Thailand.

Dr Sem played a pivotal role in a national public health plan when he served as public health minister during the government of Gen Kriangsak Chamanand from 1976-1980.

He pioneered the establishment of hospitals and initiated basic healthcare in rural areas.

The national policy on medicine and the national list of essential medicine in 1981 were his initiatives. The national list of essential drugs fosters the proper use of medicine in the country.