Thailand vs. COVID-19: Early Detection and Treatment, Assertive Approach and National Preparedness

Yajai Bunnag




The word "COVID-19" written on a blue background, next to a 3D rendering of the coronavirus.

As the on-going battle against the Novel Coronavirus 2019 or ‘COVID-19’ continues to expand globally, Thailand is standing strong and prepared, in face of this new adversary.  

Thailand’s experience in handling epidemic situations ranging from Avian Flu to SARS and MERS-CoV has strengthened the country’s ability to manage epidemic situations. Thailand’s readiness to work closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO), paired with development of national preparedness at all fronts, has placed Thailand as the sixth most prepared country in the world for an epidemic or a pandemic in the Johns Hopkins University’s 2019 Global Health Security Index.

Therefore, when the authorities in Wuhan confirmed on 31 December, 2019, that numerous pneumonia cases of an unknown cause had occurred, Thailand was already on alert. The Thai Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) immediately set up a surveillance protocol as from 3 January, 2020, and activated the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) on 4 January. This was why, on 8 January, Thailand became the first country to detect a COVID-19 case outside of China, an imported case from Wuhan City, even before the virus was made known to the world.

At that time, a medical team at the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Centre, Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University was able to detect the virus, and initially identify it as an unknown coronavirus. They kept it isolated, and as soon as China shared the genome of COVID-19 on 11 January, they were able to confirm a match and disclose this information on 12 January.

To contain the spread of the virus, Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute (BIDI), a renowned institute in epidemiology under the supervision of the Department for Disease Control, MOPH, was tasked to spearhead patient treatment and conduct research on COVID-19.

In early February, the team of physicians at Rajavithi Hospital, under the supervision of the Department of Medical Services, MOPH, took an assertive approach in COVID-19 treatment. The combination of anti-influenza (Oseltamivir) and anti-HIV medications (Lopinavir and Rotonavir) successfully treated severe COVID-19 cases within 48 hours. Although the treatment was done on a trial basis, this finding has helped pave the way for future research on antiviral medication to treat COVID-19 patients and was noted world-wide.

The capacity to confirm infected cases on a timely basis is also crucial. Thailand can have diagnostic laboratory examinations for suspected cases done within 24 hours.

According to the WHO, recently Thailand has a “One Lab One Province-24-hour reporting policy”, having at least one laboratory in each of the country’s 77 provinces to test for the novel coronavirus, which has provided timely results. This has helped to quickly identify local hotspots of infection. 

Testing is available at 203 laboratories in Thailand, which have now been certified to confirm COVID-19 test results using the RT-PCR method. The treatment of patients is also effective, with a high recovery rate.

On 23 August, 2020, Thailand’s Department of Disease Control announced a total of 3,221 cases have recovered or 94.87% of the total number of the confirmed 3,395 cases and 116 were being treated in hospitals (3.42% of the total number of confirmed cases). The total number of deaths remained at 58 cases. 

The MOPH has kept the public, WHO, ASEAN member states, and other partner countries informed early in the stages of the COVID-19 situation. The public have access to information on personal hygiene, preventive measures, as well as situation reports and measures through press briefings twice a day. A dedicated MOPH website, Facebook and Twitter accounts disseminate the information simultaneously. There is a telephone hotline to also respond to public queries.

The above-mentioned efforts have enabled Thailand to gradually move down the list of countries with the highest numbers of infected persons outside China. Thailand is working relentlessly to maintain its current status, where all cases of infections can be accounted for and traceable to imported cases or tourists.

Effective System

While screening measures have been put in place at all ports of entry, the MOPH has pushed forward with the implementation of a contact tracing system ever since the first infection was detected, on suspected individuals and people they have come into close contact. This has enabled authorities to identify virus carriers even before symptoms appear and prevent them from unknowingly spreading the virus.

Since the beginning of February, the MOPH has stepped up measures to ensure that there are no gaps in Thailand’s surveillance system. On 17 February, 2020, the MOPH upgraded screening patients with pneumonia from unknown causes in eight popular tourist destinations (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chon Buri, Krabi, Phuket, Prachuap Khiri Khan, and Samut Prakan), as well as people who had close contact with travellers from COVID-19 outbreak areas. Such cases will be automatically referred to as Patients under Investigation (PUI). Following the introduction of the elevated screening, the PUI cases increased significantly, which has raised the level of confidence that Thailand is indeed leaving no carpets unturned. 

Thailand’s effective system encompasses early detection, comprehensive patient treatment, and assertive action coupled by the transparent nature of its approach. All efforts are made to ensure that this effective system continues with no obstacles.

Latest Measures

As the COVID-19 situation continues to spread globally, we need to be prepared for the likelihood of an epidemic phase in Thailand. On 24 February, 2020, Thailand’s National Committee on Communicable Diseases declared the COVID-19 a dangerous communicable disease to enable health authorities to respond more quickly and effectively, step up precautionary measures, and enforce tougher rules to contain the situation when necessary. Thailand will continue to maintain open communication with the public in full confidence and transparency.  Through close cooperation with the WHO and partners in the region, through vigilance and preparedness, we are confident that we will overcome the disease together.

Source :Thailand Today


Yajai Bunnag

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