1 million Thai volunteers join fight against coronavirus

By Noel Caballero

Pathum Thani, Thailand, June 17 (EFE).- Local volunteers are proving to be a key part of Thailand’s fight against COVID-19 in small communities and remote villages by helping authorities in identifying possible carriers of the virus, with their numbers exceeding the 1 million mark across the country.

These volunteers, with hardly any medical training and thermometers in hand, go from house to house to measure the temperature of the residents and inform about visits of family members from outside the province.

In Chao Fah, Pathum Thani province, which borders Bangkok to the north, Piyamaporn Huadkham consciously disinfects her hands, carefully pulls on gloves and begins to skillfully check the health status of a number of elderly residents.

Her duties include carrying out basic health checks and sensitizing local residents about social distancing norms enforced to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

At times she has to double up as a delivery person to hand out medicines to houses in order to try and prevent patients from crowding hospitals.

“We focus more on the prevention (of the disease), on the use of disinfectants and face masks,” 50-year-old Piyamaporn told EFE during a round of visits.

The village health volunteers, part of an organization founded in 1977 that boasts of 1,068,587 members across the country “helps people who live far from big hospitals.”

Each of the volunteers, who cooperate with the primary health service and have to undergo a 2-3 day basic training course, receives a modest monthly stipend of 1,000 baht ($32) from the government.

“Before the pandemic, we normally promoted health campaigns and raised awareness among the residents about dengue, the seasonal flu and other diseases,” said Piyamaporn, who has had to add temperature checks to her usual tasks due to the virus outbreak.

She and a group of six other volunteers also manufacture cloth masks for distributing among the locals.

“The core value that (each volunteer) should have is sacrifice. If you don’t sacrifice yourself, you will not be able to help,” said the veteran volunteer, having joined the VHVs in 2011 emulating her mother, who is still active.

Piyamaporn admitted that she has been scared during the worst phase of the epidemic.

The World Health Organization has praised the work of the volunteer network, which visited more than 10 million households in the months of March and April.

In northern Lampang province, Sawai Songmuang, 61, acts as the director of a group of 43 volunteers who are in charge of around 10 houses each in Thanang district of the town of Thoen.

“We monitor people who return from abroad and those who travel from other provinces. If someone returns from abroad, we will notify our doctor and we will go to that person’s house to check on him or her as well as to measure the temperature,” she told EFE.

Thailand, which continues to keep its international borders closed, had banned inter-provincial travel for non-residents of the region during the worst phase of the epidemic, especially in areas bordering Bangkok, which witnessed the highest number of infections.

Those who were allowed to return to their family homes were subjected to a 14-day mandatory quarantine confined to the house.

The volunteers, generally well-known among the local population, played an important part in enforcing these norms and health-related safety in the villages and helped prevent a bigger outbreak of the epidemic, which has remained under control, according to authorities.

Thailand, the first country after China to detect a COVID-19 case within its territory, has so far reported over 3,100 cases of the infectious disease, including 58 deaths, with just 81 active cases remaining.

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