Dengue fever is a life-threatening disease, but most sufferers will recover if they receive a timely diagnosis and proper treatment. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case for the late Karen activist living in Phetchaburi's Bang Kloi, Gib Tonnamphet.
Gib, 44, who had been fighting for Bang Kloi residents' right to return to their ancestral land deep in upper Bang Kloi, succumbed to the disease on May 24.
Her friends and relatives said she began complaining of a fever on May 19, but seemed otherwise fine. Over the next few days, her condition gradually worsened, prompting her husband to take her to Kaeng Krachan Hospital -- a trip that took at least three hours from their settlement in lower Bang Kloi, where ethnic Karen who were evicted from homes in Kaeng Krachan National Park were resettled.
Gib's husband said when they arrived at the hospital's emergency unit after 2pm on May 21, they were told to leave as the hospital's laboratory had closed for the day. In the evening, her condition rapidly deteriorated, so they returned to the hospital the following morning, only to find a massive queue to see a general practitioner.
After waiting for over half a day to see the doctor, they were told that the hospital was not equipped to handle her case, so they were sent to a bigger hospital in town. Soon after, she succumbed to the disease.
Her untimely death triggered an outcry, and a group of activists who were advocating for the rights of Thailand's ethnic minorities are demanding a probe into the matter. Their concern about discrimination is understandable, given the government's track record in the area.
In response, the Public Health Ministry has agreed to launch an investigation, promising to release the results in 15 days.
Dengue fever may not be seen as a serious problem in other areas, but in Bang Kloi, with its location deep in a mosquito-infested area, it cannot be taken lightly. It is ironic and untimely that the Public Health Ministry only decided to issue a dengue fever alert on the day Gib's friends and relatives began mourning her death, urging those who suspect they may have dengue fever "to seek immediate medical advice".
Opas Karnkawinpong, permanent secretary for public health, said over 16,600 dengue cases and 17 deaths had been reported since the beginning of the year. The cases are expected to rise as Thailand has entered the rainy season. He gave the impression that the ministry is working proactively to curb the infection.
But what's happening on the ground is another story. Had Kaeng Krachan Hospital followed the ministry's guidelines, had they taken the right precautions against the fever, the Tonnamphet family would not have lost its breadwinner. Gib's untimely death is a result of negligence on the part of Kaeng Krachan Hospital.
While it is not uncommon for the poor to encounter sub-par services from state hospitals, the experience of ethnic minorities like the Karen of Bang Kloi is much worse.
While state authorities have repeatedly said that all Bang Kloi villagers in the new settlement are well taken care of, Gib, who had practised subsistence farming before the eviction, died penniless. Another sad irony.
The Tonnamphet family's trauma is a fresh reminder that the Bang Kloi community continues to face injustices. All the lip service can no longer be tolerated, as Bang Kloi villagers have suffered long enough from the government's unfair policies.