World

Thailand’s volunteers are unsung heroes in fight against Covid-19

SALADANG, THAILAND: Nearly every day, 77-year-old Surin Makradee goes door-to-door in her village in Thailand, visiting every home to check people's temperatures in a routine repeated in communities across the country during the coronavirus pandemic.

"I consider people in the village my family. If I don't educate them, they will not understand the risk of getting infected," Ms Surin said in her village of Saladang in Ang Thong province, about 90km north of Bangkok.

She is a member of the Village Health Volunteers, a long-overlooked network of more than one million community workers dating back to a Cold War-era hearts-and-minds programme.

The volunteers have been praised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as "unsung heroes" in Thailand's relatively successful efforts to fight the virus.

Thailand was the first country outside China to detect a case of the coronavirus in January, but it has reported about only 3,000 cases and 58 deaths since then.

"Thailand's village health volunteers are unsung heroes working to support the prevention, detection and reporting of Covid-19," said Mr Daniel Kertesz, WHO representative for Thailand.

Apart from the temperature checks, the front-line health volunteers help the government collect daily health information and watch for flare-ups in infections.

Ms Surin, who has been a volunteer for 38 years and does her rounds by motorcycle, said she is also responsible for monitoring people who have returned from other provinces and need to be in quarantine for 14 days.

"I have to educate those in quarantine to eat and live separately from their family members," she said.

Created in 1977, the Village Health Volunteers was set up as part of government efforts to help rural communities at a time when communist insurgents roamed through many parts of the country.

With basic health training, the volunteers help provide rudimentary care and initial diagnoses in areas that are often a long way from a clinic or hospital.

Their role, however, had become less prominent over the past 10 years - at least until the coronavirus emerged. - REUTERS

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