By Linda Khoo Hui Li
BANGKOK, June 29 – Clad in a cap, black vest, and wearing a face mask, Naowarat Yangpu walked door-to-door in her village in Bang Phae District in Ratchaburi Province to check the villagers’ temperatures during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The 57-year-old village health volunteer also makes her round to collect daily health information as well as to monitor those who returned from other provinces and need to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
Naowarat – who has been a volunteer for about 20 years – and a group of front-line volunteers in the village also provide health information to villagers and educate them – notably those in the high-risk group – to practice good hygiene to curb the outbreak.
“During the COVID-19 outbreak, we regularly give the latest updates on COVID-19 to villagers and remind them to take necessary precautions in a bid to keep the deadly virus out of our areas. We received good cooperation from the villagers.
“As a health volunteer network in the village, we want to prevent infections and save lives,” she told Bernama.
Naowarat is among Thailand's 1.5 million village health volunteers, also known as ‘the warriors in grey shirts’, who are helping to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the kingdom.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) praised the village health volunteers as ‘unsung heroes’ in the fight against COVID-19.
Thailand is the first country outside of China to report a case of the deadly virus on January 13, and has flattened the COVID-19 curve. It recorded the highest daily cases of 188 on March 22 to zero COVID-19 cases on May 24. To date, Thailand has reported more than 3,100 COVID-19 cases with 58 fatalities.
Thailand is relatively successful in fighting COVID-19 as it has recorded more than 30 days without local transmission.
Established in 1977, the Village Health Volunteers Programme – which recruits local villagers to help rural communities in battling diseases and promote primary health care – has expanded to every remote village in the kingdom.
A historian at Srinakharinwirot University, Chatichai Muksong, said there are about 1.5 million to 2 million village health volunteers in Thailand that have strengthened the country's public health capacity, especially during a crisis.
He said the long-overlooked network has played a crucial role in controlling many communicable diseases prior to COVID-19, such as HIV/AIDS, and other newer diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and avian flu.
According to the Ministry of Public Health, the network of health volunteers helped to reduce the number of new HIV/AIDS cases from 100,000 in 1995 to 13, 936 in 2007.
“The village health volunteers are gatekeepers for villagers as they can detect potential (health) problems and alert medical personnel, particularly when resources of the health system are limited.
“They become a bridge between the authorities and local communities who are more likely to listen and trust one of their own,” he said.
Bang Phae Hospital’s chief, Kiatisak Nitisetasa, said the hospital provides basic health training for village health volunteers to improve efficiency in curbing the spread of COVID-19 in the communities.
“The volunteers understand the locals and create a good relationship with them. It is an effective preventive measure especially when they build a good relationship, trust and confidence with the villagers to support the prevention, detection, and reporting of COVID-19,” he said.
As the COVID-19 situation in the kingdom continues to improve, Naowarat and other village health volunteers continue their daily routine, visiting 10 to 15 households every day to check on the villagers’ temperature.
“While the virus will remain among us until a remedy or vaccine can be found, we cannot let our guard down… we must prevent the second wave of COVID-19,” said Naowarat.
Malaysia National News Agency
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