Thailand bets on ‘magic pills’ to boost declining birth rate

Public health officer gives a prenatal vitamins to a couple during a Valentine’s Day celebration at the Laksi district in Bangkok, Thailand February 14, 2018.
Reuters

Thailand has tried cash bonuses and tax incentives to boost the country’s birth rate, but on Valentine’s Day today it adopted a new approach – handing out vitamin pills.

Like several other Asian countries, Thailand is ageing rapidly. Birth rates have dropped sharply from more than 6 children per woman in 1960 to 1.5 in 2015, according to World Bank figures.

In Bangkok, health officials handed out folic acid and iron pills in pink boxes at six locations to entice couples to prepare for pregnancy. The pills came with leaflets explaining how to be healthy in order to conceive.

Relationships and sex were previously a taboo subject but attitudes have changed and they are now discussed more publicly. Still, health experts say Thailand will have to talk even more about conception and birth if it wants to boost its population.

Together with China, the country has the highest proportion of elderly people of any developing country in East Asia, World Bank figures show.

The population has peaked and will begin to decrease in 2030, pointing to potential economic problems, such as labor shortages and a smaller base of income tax payers as the working-age population shrinks.

Successive Thai governments have introduced various schemes to encourage baby-making but, like in neighboring Singapore, whose birth rate is amongst the lowest in the world, they haven’t seen much success.