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Surge of Robots and Diapers a Betting Point for Firms in an Aging Thailand

Surge of Robots and Diapers a Betting Point for Firms in an Aging Thailand
In a country where the working-age population will decline this year - a first among the emerging economies of Southeast Asia, the demand for elderly robots is on the increase.

For example, apart from exercising with and entertain the elderly with its karaoke skills, keeping track of their medication and initiating video-phone to relatives is done by Thai elderly care robot Dinsow.
Many Thai firms investing heavily in healthcare for the aged and the maker of Dinsow, CT Asia Robotics, is one of the many such Thai firms.
Roughly 10.2 million of the 68 million people will be over the retirement age of 60 in Thailand by the end of 2016. An already stretched healthcare sector would be further strained as the government expects the proportion to reach 20 percent by 2020.
"Doctors and nurses have responded positively to Dinsow because it helps them monitor patients," said Chief Executive Chalermpon Punnotok. He said that orders for the 85,000 baht ($2,445) droid manufactured by CT Asia Robotics has touched 1,000  and the orders are primarily from Thailand and Japan.
According to the World Bank, the cost of living and education are rising along with economic development in Thailand and at this juncture, there is a swing toward the elderly in Thailand's population.
KGI Securities estimates healthcare spending will be as high as 7.0 percent of gross domestic product by 2026 from 4.5 percent in 2015 and the government estimates households spend almost of third of their income on caring for elderly relatives.
In addition to enhanced demand for doctors, nurses and care givers, plus hospital beds, nursing homes and customized private housing, Thailand's $4 billion medicine and healthcare industry is therefore gearing up for a surge in demand for elderly care products.
Features to cater to elderly tenants, such as ramps for wheelchair users, sliding doors, touch-screen light switches and emergency alarm systems are being added to their houses by housing developers such as Sena Development PCL and Nusasiri PCL.
"Elderly clients make up about 10 percent of our customer base. That could easily rise to 15 percent or more in coming years," said Sena's Deputy Chief Executive Kesara Tanyalakpark.
The chief operating officer of DSG International Thailand PCL, a personal care producer, expects double-digit growth over the next five years for its diapers as it has seen adult diaper sales grow 30 percent this year.
"We see Thailand moving in the direction of Japan whereby the adult diaper market will become larger than the baby diaper market, perhaps in 10 years' time," Justine Wang told Reuters.
Medical equipment supplier Samaphan Health, which with Taiwan's Apex Medical Corp sells mattresses to prevent bed sores as well as respiratory products to aid sleep, is another company that sees opportunity in the demographic change.
"Demand from wealthy clients is very strong," said Managing Director Chinnakarn Samalapa. He said that there has been a growth of 10 percent annually since 2011 in the sales of its elderly care products and this growth rate would continue growing.
"They don't mind spending to improve the quality of life for elderly relatives," he added.
However some seemingly essential products and services could take a little longer than others to benefit as the market booms,
Facility Manager Pornchanok Jeanmpudsa of the Thai Riei & Elderly Care Recruitment Co says that attracting customers is a challenge. The unit was opened in January. A cultural perception that nursing homes are places to abandon the elderly is the reason behind this.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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