From a country which was once characterized by poor health indicators and a very weak health infrastructure, especially at the local level, Thailand achieved Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in 2002 with its healthcare characterized by its accessibility. The country’s public health capacity has allowed Thailand to successfully deal with a number of notable challenges during the past two decades, including SARS, MERS, Avian Flu, and other outbreaks.
Thailand’s public health system was put to test again in 2020 when COVID-19 surfaced and the first cases were detected in Thailand in January, as it is a popular destination among Chinese tourists, including direct arrivals from Wuhan. But Thailand recorded fewer than 3,600 infections, 59 deaths, and just one locally transmitted case in over the first 200 days. This is the outcome of successive Thai government’s policies which have prioritized healthcare: subsidizing the healthcare system, funding the education in the field, and also granting awards of recognition to healthcare workers. But furthermore, it is also the synergy among Thais that let public health authorities take the lead in the fight against COVID-19.
As WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during the World Health Assembly on 13 November 2020: ‘Thailand is an excellent example that with a whole-of-government, whole-of-society, comprehensive approach, this virus can be contained – even without a vaccine.’ Since June 15, the Thai government has started to ease the measures to control the spread of COVID-19. Shopping Malls can once again open with correct measures in place. Creative technology is employed to facilitate keeping track of people’s whereabouts and ensure that in case of new infection, contact tracing will be easier. Individuals are encouraged to follow health protocols.
The Joint Intra-Action Review (IAR), which is a review on how health system responded to COVID-19, highlighted that the Kingdom’s strong leadership that responds to scientific evidence, strong public health system, the country’s previous experience with other outbreaks, and a strong collaboration with the academic and private sectors are the factors that have allowed Thailand to successfully control COVID-19 so far. However, as the spread of COVID-19 is a global concern, cooperation at the regional and international levels is key to tackle the pandemic. The notion that “no one is safe, until everyone is safe” cannot be disputed. That is why the Thai government has actively engaged in supporting the fight against COVID-19, especially of its neighbors, and so does the Cambodian government.
Sharing a similar view that public health security is a top priority and, indeed, a common responsibility at this time, the top leadership in Thailand and Cambodia, while implementing strict health measures domestically, have also extended bilateral assistance in various forms to countries in the region. Financial contribution was made by the Thai government to neighboring countries, including to Cambodia, earlier this year and the Thai community in Cambodia has donated in cash and in kind to partake in the Cambodian government’s efforts to combat COVID-19. On its part, the Cambodian government has recently donated face masks and other medical supplies to Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Timor-Leste.
When it comes to cooperation at the regional level, Thailand has proposed to establish a “COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund” and has offered 10,000 RT-PCR test kits to each ASEAN Member States. These test kits are locally produced in Thailand through the cooperation between the Thai government, the private sector and universities. The test kits have arrived in Cambodia at the beginning of December 2020, in time to give a helping hand to the current situation. Although the incredible success in vaccine development has offered us a light at the end of the tunnel, it is really by working together and reinforcing each other’s capacity, like what Thailand and Cambodia did, that we will be able to keep our peoples safe throughout this journey.