A health calamity currently threatening the human race is telling us that the world that we have long been used to will be no longer the same and that in the near future a crisis can strike again at any time.
COVID-19 is a reflection of One World, One Destiny, a world in which everyone is inseparably tied to one another. A phenomenon that occurs on one side of the globe can have an immediate impact on the other side.
Living at a time when the future catches you is no easy task. Being prepared is the only way that will enable us to handle the crisis and survive in this new world. Of course, this is not the task of any one person or agency to withstand the challenge in view of the magnitude of the situation.
COVID-19 calls for a concerted effort on a global scale. One of the clearest examples can be found in WHO’s COVAX program that mobilizes production and distribution of vaccines worldwide and at the same time aims to address the adverse impacts of the vaccination. The program, therefore, is a global remedial effort.
On a smaller scale at home, we have witnessed a concrete example of how to move beyond a bad situation as in the case of the “Klong Toei – crowed community” that sees a cluster responsible for a big spread of the coronavirus in the heart of Bangkok. It is a result of collaboration by all sectors concerned in the fight against the crisis. The sectors include the community, civil society, private sector and government.
Any time when we talk about the “participatory process” in order to tackle a crisis, the name of the National Health Commission Office (NHCO) crops up. It is an organization of synergy for well-being established under the National Health Act in 2007, responsible for inviting all sectors in the society to develop public policies by using a participatory public policy process based on wisdom (4P-W), in an attempt to make something almost impossible possible.
NHC Secretary-General Dr. Prateep Dhanakijcharoen said that thanks to COVID-19 we have become more aware of the reality of Thailand as well as of opportunities and limitations. Importantly, we have recognized how important the participatory public policy process based on wisdom (4P-W) really is.
“In every crisis that has occurred over the years to the current COVID-19 we will find that people, as partners closest to the ground, are important factors that contribute to the success of government measures. The government’s action or top-down command may not effectively reflect the reality of the situation,” mentioned the NHC Secretary-General.
Dr. Prateep cited two crowded communities of Klong Toei and Wang Thong Lang for which NHCO has provided support and mobilized concerted action in the face of the crisis.
“When we found a big cluster of COVID-19 cases in Klong Toei community, we knew straight away that unless an effective action was taken to stop the spread the situation would go out of control. We invited Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), Ministry of Public Health, Community Organization Development Institute (CODI), civil society, and community leaders to do a serious planning.
“First thing we did was to separate the infected people from the household. The community used an area in Saphan temple as a community isolation center. It also serves as a waiting area for the infected before they are sent to the hospital for further treatment. This center is managed by the community committee, equipped with a communications system, planning bed arrangements, collecting information, and coordinating with outside organizations for further support, e.g. food and disease prevention equipment.
“The presence of the shelter and waiting center helps facilitate the government work, making it faster for the ambulance to take patients for treatment without going into the community. In addition, it facilitates coordination with the community, making it possible to keep track of the situation and real needs, leading to better further planning or preparation,” explained Dr. Prateep.
He also mentioned the work of the Wang Thong Lang community with its strong and well-prepared “community database”. The community has developed its own database since the first wave of the outbreak. Although the situation has begun to improve, the community continues to monitor and update its database.
“The database covers the location of households, population size, age, occupation, and income. Therefore, upon the onset of the third wave of the outbreak, the community making use of the existing database was able to set up various necessary measures and coordinate with outside agencies for support for what it really needed.
“Talking with the community leaders, we learn that the database plays an important role in instilling confidence in people from the outside into giving support. It also serves as a tool to allocate work for volunteers according to their skills. This is just another example of how community strength can very well support the government work in time of crisis,” explained Dr. Prateep.
The NHC Secretary-General mentioned further that besides handling the immediate crisis with the community strength, in the long term we need to develop a public policy. In 2021, NHCO has invited all its partner networks and sectors to propose and select ideas, as well as analyzing the situation and future challenges that may emerge.
Finally, they have decided on three important agenda to be put forward for consideration by the 14th National Health Assembly: 1. Promotion of sustainable environmental wellbeing in the COVID-19 crisis, 2. Protection of equitable access to health service by specific population groups in the COVID-19 crisis, and 3. Management of participatory communication in the health crisis.
These three issues will be considered by the National Health Assembly members and participants, and recommendations will be put forward. The meeting will be held on-site and online nationwide during 15-16 December 2021 at the Main Hall, TOT Headquarters, Chaengwattana Road, Bangkok, where consensus will be reached.
“When the community strength is the strategic response to the crisis, I think that the National Health Assembly will provide a platform for coordinating and weaving the relationship between the “national-central” and the “local-community” actors into one concerted whole,” explained Dr. Prateep.
Finally, when the assembly has reached its consensus, together with its commitment to implement the resolutions at national and local levels, we are confident that the community and Thailand will be stronger and better prepared to handle future crises that may occur.