Volunteers ‘share the fire’ with Thai doctors and nurses

When the hospital system is overloaded, unable to support all patients, that’s when volunteers appear, helping them in a difficult situation.

“I’m about to collapse. I’m self-isolating but I don’t think I’ll make it through,” Kunlasub ‘Up’ Wattanaphon, 34, a Thai e-sports legend, said in April during a live broadcast. continue on Facebook.

Wattanaphon had been searching for medical help to treat Covid-19 in vain for more than a week and his condition was worsening. They were numerous and breathless, and Wattanaphon recounted his experience with despair.

“The hospital doesn’t accept me. The hotlines are all down. I go live like this hoping my friends can help me. Please help me,” he begged in the video.

Volunteers ride a motorbike carrying oxygen tanks to a Covid-19 patient in Bangkok, Thailand, on August 5.  Photo: Reuters.

Volunteers ride a motorbike carrying oxygen tanks to a Covid-19 patient in Bangkok, Thailand, on August 5. Photo: Reuters.

Wattanaphon was hospitalized the next day. At that time, his lung function was only 20%. He died two days later.

The final Facebook live stream not only captured Wattanaphon’s painful moments, but also brought the Thai health system into the spotlight.

At that time, Thailand was witnessing the beginning of the worst Covid-19 wave it had ever faced. The virus spread quickly from the busiest shopping streets of Bangkok to poor communities, cramped prisons or worker housing quarters, turning the capital into the epicenter of the epidemic, and at the same time putting pressure on people. unprecedented force on the country’s public health infrastructure.

In that context, volunteer groups set up by ordinary people have taken action, sharing the burden with the health system, helping the most vulnerable.

For most people in Bangkok, each day begins with the statistics of thousands of new infections. But for Kamonlak ‘Mahmud’ Anusornweeracheewin, a former death row inmate, his day begins with a race against time to save as many lives as possible.

Mahmud was released from prison after serving 15 years and 10 months for drug-related crimes. He was initially sentenced to death but later reduced to life in prison and a good re-education effort resulted in Mahmud’s release.

Currently, he volunteers with a Covid-19 response group called Zendai, which specializes in rescuing patients in critical condition. Many of them are old, debilitated, and live alone, without loved ones to take care of them.

Mahmud, 41, knows what it’s like to be abandoned and miserable. He also knows what it feels like to be given another chance in life in the midst of hopelessness.

“Whenever I have a serious case, I feel sorry for them,” he said. “So if there’s a chance to help them, I’ll do it.”

Zendai has provided medical assistance to tens of thousands of people in Bangkok and surrounding provinces. The group’s Facebook page receives about 1,000 requests for help every day, with everything from asking for a hospital transfer to finding a hospital bed, not to mention another 1,000 requests from the hotline.

Kamonlak 'Mahmud' Anusornweeracheewin wears protective gear, prepares to participate in supporting Covid-19 patients with other Zendai volunteers.  Photo: Zendai.

Kamonlak ‘Mahmud’ Anusornweeracheewin wears protective gear, prepares to participate in supporting Covid-19 patients with other Zendai volunteers. Photo: Zendai.

Zendai functions as a bridge between patients and healthcare providers. The group was formed in April, shortly after Wattanaphon’s death, because they didn’t want his story to be repeated.

The group helps to move emergency Covid-19 patients who are unable to walk on their own. They support people who need basic medical care and help with rapid testing in local communities because RT-PCR testing is limited in public hospitals. Zendai volunteers also take care of the elderly and the less fortunate in disadvantaged areas.

Day and night, volunteers travel around Bangkok visiting patients stuck at home, bringing them food, medicine and oxygen tanks.

“The public health system has been really overwhelmed. Government programs, from home isolation systems or registering patients in red and yellow zones to hospital admission, have not been effective. Covid-19 tests also don’t work well, maybe because they haven’t been properly calculated,” commented Zendai co-founder Chris Potranandana.

“Zendai’s mission is not only to help people. We also want to encourage the authorities to manage the system properly,” he added.

With 130 volunteers, Zendai has saved the lives of many patients when Bangkok’s medical system was overwhelmed.

Their latest campaign is to set up free testing sites in different parts of the capital. If anyone tests positive, they can choose to self-isolate at home and receive remote support, jointly conducted by Zendai and the Thai Red Cross Society. If not, Zendai will refer them to the appropriate hospitals.

“We are the intermediary, connecting patients with hospitals, both public and private,” Chris said.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha last month acknowledged Thailand’s health system was overwhelmed and apologized for the loss of life due to the epidemic.

Speaking to parliament on August 31, he also admitted that some patients could not be hospitalized because all beds were full. “I have built field hospitals and improved them. The situation is improving in recent weeks,” he said. “We have to do our best. I’m sorry. Sorry for the loss and pain. No one wants this to happen.”

A Covid-19 patient lies in bed as volunteers come to her aid on August 3.  Photo: Reuters.

A Covid-19 patient lies in bed as volunteers come to her aid in Bangkok on August 3. Photo: Reuters.

Data from the Department of Disease Control of Thailand shows that the Covid-19 situation in Bangkok is more severe than in other provinces. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Thailand has reported more than 1.3 million infections and 25% of these were recorded in the capital. Bangkok also reported more than 5,400 deaths, representing 39% of the country.

Months of dealing with the epidemic have drained Bangkok of medical resources. The hospital corridors are always filled with Covid-19 patients and there are still many others queuing to get in.

Patients must have a positive RT-PCR test result to be admitted to the hospital, but testing activities are limited, time consuming and beyond the ability of many people to pay.

Although the situation in Bangkok has improved with the number of infections decreasing, there are still countless patients in the community who need urgent help from volunteers.

For Mahmud, every minute is vital. He drives an ambulance that transports patients in the mornings and is on duty every night, ready to respond when a serious case arises.

“If I delay, even a little, their condition can become serious and incurable,” he said. “Sometimes, they die as soon as we get home.”

Vu Hoang (Follow Channel News Asia)

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