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Tackling COVID-19: Thailand’s robust healthcare system proves resilient

BY Bridge Estate

Along with being the top vacation destinations in the world, Thailand is also one of the most popular countries for medical tourism among global travellers. Its healthcare system ranks 6th out of 195 countries in the 2019 Global Health Security Index, and is the highest ranked emerging economy and Asian country in the index.


Thailand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged even the most “advanced” countries around the world has been lauded as one of the most successful in the region, with only 3,255 infections and 58 deaths (as of July 2020).


We look at the factors that have kept Thailand’s healthcare system so resilient in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Strong healthcare infrastructure

The first case of COVID-19 outside of China was recorded in Thailand, prompting initial confusion among both the government and the general public. However, the epidemiologists and other public healthcare professionals remained steadfast and were adequately prepared, after having faced the deadly SARS infection spread in 2003. Extensive contact tracing and quarantine measures were some of the aggressive containment strategies that were implemented early on.


Thailand’s universal health care coverage that provides quality and affordable health care to 98% of the Thai population, has been widely regarded as one of the most successful in the world, credited with reducing infant mortality and placing quality medical care within reach of the less privileged. This established trust between the public and the healthcare system is another major factor in Thailand’s success against the virus. People did not hesitate to visit hospitals to get tested immediately after the onset of symptoms as they were not turned off by the costs of seeking medical treatment.


Village health volunteers also played a critical role in curbing the spread of the virus at the community level, with over 1 million volunteers mobilised across more than 70,000 villages. They monitored movement in and out of the villages, conducted home visits to check on the residents’ health and worked closely with health officials on both the provincial and government levels.


Effective government measures

While the initial onset of the infection in the country was met with some level of confusion on the government level, officials soon yielded to health professionals and authorities to avoid further disorganisation. A special task force, the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), was set up quickly and led by a medical professional who established direct, fact-based communication by laying out numbers and offering assessments of the national and international pandemic situation, boosting the morale of the public.


This also made it easier for the authorities to ensure widespread compliance with containment measures such soft lockdowns, curfews, wearing masks, observing social distancing and staying at home where possible.


Resilience of the Thai public

Public participation and cooperation clearly played a huge role in the success of Thailand’s fight against the pandemic. Thais were wearing masks regularly, even before WHO’s guidelines were announced, as it was already an established practice in the hygiene-conscious.


The trust that had been built between the public healthcare authorities and the greater Thai public also ensured that they were compliant and readily cooperated with the measures that were put in place, especially with the mobilisation of the village health volunteers at the grassroots. This helped to reconcile people to the personal, social and economic sacrifice that were required of them. Thais are also known to be nimble and adaptable to adverse situations and have a strong sense of survivability.


With the COVID-19 infections continuing to rise at an exponential rate around the world (as of July 2020), the spotlights have turned to how individual governments and societies have responded to the pandemic. Thailand has once again emerged as a global front runner in the path to recovery, and will bounce back stronger than ever before.

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