Protecting society's most vulnerable

Protecting society's most vulnerable

A civil network launches a mass Covid testing drive aimed at homeless people and other at-risk individuals in Klong Lod neighbourhood, writes Supoj Wancharoen

Medical workers prepare to conduct Covid-19 tests with antigen test kits in a project targeting homeless and vulnerable people in Klong Lod neighbourhood, Phra Nakhon district. Apichart Jinakul
Medical workers prepare to conduct Covid-19 tests with antigen test kits in a project targeting homeless and vulnerable people in Klong Lod neighbourhood, Phra Nakhon district. Apichart Jinakul

A group of civil society organisations is cooperating with the government to launch the "Klong Lod Covid-free" project to conduct mass Covid-19 testing on homeless people and other vulnerable individuals in the neighbourhood.

Located in Phra Nakhon district, Klong Lod was chosen because it is known to have a high concentration of at-risk individuals -- many of whom have been largely forgotten by the government in the height of the pandemic. Without access to the state's healthcare system, these individuals have no access to medical treatment should they fall ill, let alone Covid-19 vaccines.

As such, a number of organisations, led by the Issarachon Foundation, decided to work with state agencies to offer free Covid-19 tests and vaccines to the neighbourhood's most vulnerable.

According to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the project is aimed at turning the area into the capital region's first Covid-free neighbourhood.

The ministry's permanent secretary Patcharee Arayakul, active case finding will be carried out in the neighbourhood every Friday, in which about 200 people will be tested each week.

Homeless individuals and those who are otherwise unable to access Covid-19 test will be prioritised, she said.

Adchara Saravari, secretary-general of Issarachon Foundation, said the testing drive will be carried out at a site set up by the canal behind the Supreme Court building, which has been serving as a vaccination centre since Sept 3.

It will offer both antigen test kits (ATKs) and offer RT-PCR test to confirm positive results.

Active case finding will take place over a two week period, Ms Adchara said.

Ms Adchara said the foundation has also recruited experts to come up with a solution to ensure the neighbourhood can remain Covid-free.

The foundation has been providing assistance to homeless people and other at-risk individuals in the neighbourhood since the start of the pandemic, she said.

"We've given out face masks, food, medication and dispensed Covid-19 advice," she said.

"Not only are they ignored by the public, the state has hardly reached out to them. Say if a homeless person tests positive [for Covid-19], where can he or she go to seek treatment once the infection is confirmed, without an ID card?"

The foundation's efforts have been supported by a wide range of organisations, including Chulabhorn Royal Academy, which has provided vaccines, the antiviral medication favipirapir, ATKs and equipment for RT-PCR tests.

The academy has prepared vaccines for 300 vulnerable people in the first half of this month. Their second dose, scheduled on Sept 25, will also be provided by the academy, she said.

Kongkiat Kespechara, CEO of Group 3 under Bangkok Dusit Medical Services (BDMS), said Khlong Lod can be a model for Covid-19 management in other low-income areas.

"Infection rates in low-income households tend to be higher than in medium- to high-income households, sometimes by over 10%," he said.

"We must keep the rate of transmission at around 2%. If it increases over 5%, it will have an impact on our public health system."

Dr Kongkiat said the decision to launch a public testing drive in Klong Lod was driving by their experience in dealing with the outbreak in Klong Toey, which showed the importance of mass testing in curbing the spread of the virus.

All data will be sent to the Disease Control Department for further analysis, he added.

A homeless man who lives in the area, Lung Daeng, said the project will help many people in similar circumstances, most of whom have no access to the state's healthcare system.

It will also help reduce misunderstanding about Covid-19 among the city's most vulnerable individuals.

"Someone said he was afraid to seek out a test because he was worried he will never be allowed to come back," he said.

"The foundation provided the right guidance, along with alcohol gels and face masks for us to use."

As most of these people do not have ID cards, he urged the government to provide healthcare assistance to homeless people, to prevent them from catching and spreading Covid-19 to other people.

Ladda Pimkaew, a 64-year-old resident, said the project will help those who are currently unable to return to their hometowns to find a Covid-19 test and vaccine.

"I want this project to be expanded to other communities across Bangkok," she said.

City Clerk Silapasuai Rawisaengsun said those who found to have contracted the virus will be checked again with the RT-PCR test.

Green-coded patients with mild-to-no symptoms will be admitted to Somdet Chaopraya Hospital, while moderate cases will be sent to City Hall-affiliated hospitals.

After the recovery, homeless people will be sent back to their families or transferred to Ban Mit Maitree welfare house or MSDHS's Ban Pansuk, Ms Silapasuai said.

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