Former WHO chief in Thailand calls for new virus testing strategy

Former WHO chief in Thailand calls for new virus testing strategy

Women wearing protective face masks walk on King Rama VIII bridge during the coronavirus disease outbreak on Sunday. (Reuters photo)
Women wearing protective face masks walk on King Rama VIII bridge during the coronavirus disease outbreak on Sunday. (Reuters photo)

Thailand faces a call for a different testing approach to help guide decisions about reopening its economy following a drop in daily coronavirus infections.

The nation has conducted more than 100,000 tests and ramped up daily testing capacity to about 20,000, focused on those with suspect symptoms or contact with infected people. This approach is good for clinical purposes, but less so for population surveillance, according to William Aldis, formerly the World Health Organization’s representative in Thailand.

The country needs to pick representative groups, ideally province-by-province, and test them recurringly to get a sense of the incidence of the virus within the population over time, said Mr Aldis. This is a “paradigm shift” to so-called sentinel surveillance from the current approach of “more or less what we call opportunistic sampling,” he added.

“You need systematic collection of data,” said Mr Aldis, now an adjunct assistant professor at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Public Health. “You get a better decision if you’re taking this approach. It certainly gives it a level of validity we don’t have now.”

Countries around the world are trying to improve testing to track the disease. While Thailand plans to do some sentinel surveillance of patients with influenza-like illnesses, testing remains focused on those at high risk of novel coronavirus infection, according to Dr Tanarak Plipat, deputy director-general of the Disease Control Department.

Confirmed daily new cases have declined during a state of emergency and partial lockdown that’s due to expire at the end of April. Officials are working on a plan for restarting the economy -- which is headed for a deep contraction -- while stressing such moves would be gradual and preserve social distancing.

Thailand reported 32 new coronavirus cases Sunday, taking the total to 2,765. The rate of new cases has declined from more than 100 each day in late March and early April.


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