Myanmar migrant workers and monks have volunteered to help relieve pressure on Thai public health workers in Samut Sakhon -- an epicentre of the new wave of Covid-19 in Thailand.
It is not an easy task to fight the pandemic among migrant workers who barely understand Thai. The language barrier can hinder care for the infected while preventing others from learning how to avoid infection.
Samut Sakhon Hospital director Anukul Thaithanan said the province is classified as a dark red zone which means the maximum and strict control area with a high rate of infection -- the highest in the country so far. A majority of cases in the province during the new wave of the disease are migrant workers.
With mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, the infected migrant workers are quarantined at field hospitals in the province. There are nine hospitals in total with one being set up.
Interpreters in demand
The field hospitals in Samut Sakhon have 700 beds for Covid-19 patients, all migrant workers who cannot understand Thai, Dr Anukul said. A team of migrant volunteers who can speak Thai has been formed to interpret for the patients and Thai health care personnel at the hospitals, he said.
Apart from interpreting, another important task of migrant health volunteers is to give advice to migrant workers about how to protect themselves from the pandemic, help monitor those with severe symptoms, and coordinate requests for assistance or medication, he said.
"Migrant workers here are usually shy and afraid to communicate with Thais. They are more comfortable talking about their illness and what they need with their compatriots," Dr Anukul said.
"Migrant volunteers are of great help to us. They are temporary health workers who help improve the efficiency of field hospitals and reduce direct contact with patients."
Field hospitals, he said, use a telemedicine system sponsored by the Chaipattana Foundation to enable communication between patients and their doctors and decrease risks from contact-based disease transmissions. The telemedicine system features "Pinto" robots remotely controlled to deliver food and medicine to patients, he said.
Samut Sakhon has been given more than 10 Pinto robots to care for Covid-19 patients at the field hospitals.
A Migrant Health Volunteers Facebook page has been launched to educate migrant workers on the pandemic. Myanmar translation of health advice from Thai medical personnel is available on the page.
Migrant health volunteers at field hospitals in Samut Sakhon are people who have tested positive for the virus. They wear a green armband and a green cap with the initials of "Or Sor Tor" which means migrant health workers.
The volunteers are assigned to different zones to help take care of patients and clean the facilities.
Some continue to work at the hospitals even though they have completed a quarantine period with negative results from a second test. It is considered safe for them to work at the hospitals since they are already immune to the virus, according to the doctor.
In fact, migrant health volunteers are not new in Thailand. They work like Thai village health volunteers in provinces with communities of migrant workers. They are trained for at least 40 hours so they can provide health knowledge and encourage migrant workers to receive public health services from the government.
Today, there are 4,145 migrant health volunteers across nine provinces -- including 3,098 in Samut Sakhon.
Amid the second wave of Covid-19, the government is urgently training migrant workers who have volunteered to help prevent the virus' spread in communities by recommending masking, hand washing and social distancing from other people in their communities and workplaces.
Not afraid of hard work
where needs must: These buildings inside the Wattana Factory grounds were converted into a field hospital.
San Seint Seint Soe, 35, a migrant health worker at a field hospital at Samut Sakhon's main stadium, said she works for a shop at the Central Shrimp Market. She became a migrant health volunteer while staying in quarantine after testing positive for the virus.
She said she sympathised with doctors, nurses and other health workers at the field hospital who had to take care of 600–700 infected migrant workers.
"It's really hard for them. I'm willing to help with anything I can," she said. San had not hesitated to join the volunteer programme that recruits migrant workers who can speak Thai.
San said she did not feel tired working at the field hospital despite the workload. A great deal of infectious waste must be thrown out every day, such as dispensable plates, spoons and cups.
"I like working. I don't like sitting around doing nothing. By working as a migrant health volunteer I can help my compatriots. More than half of the infected migrant workers here don't understand Thai and they are afraid that they might die.
"I am glad that I get to console them and make them feel less sad," she said.
Monks help with education
Myanmar monks who are studying in Thailand have also volunteered to help fight the pandemic.
Phra Thep Wethi, deputy rector of Maha Chulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University, talked about the role of Myanmar monk students during the new wave. He said 560 Myanmar monks studying at the university helped educate Myanmar people in Samut Sakhon about the pandemic so they would not panic over the situation. Secretary-general of the National Health Commission Pratheep Thanakitchaoren said cooperation between the Thai public health authorities and the university was part of the National Health Charter for Monks.
Like migrant health volunteers, Myanmar monk health volunteers will be trained on Covid-19 prevention before they can give advice to Myanmar people in the country. "Although the cooperation between the government and the people to fight the pandemic has proven successful, migrant workers still need moral support and assistance,'' Dr Pratheep said.