The head of the World Health Organization has praised a developing country for its success in handling the coronavirus pandemic and urged others to re-evaluate their approaches to health care.
“Thailand is an excellent example that, with a whole-of-government, whole-of-society, comprehensive approach, this virus can be contained — even without a vaccine.”
Thailand’s numbers “speak for themselves,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in closing remarks to the World Health Assembly, which took place this week.
Thailand was the first country outside China to report a case of COVID-19, but to date it has counted fewer than 4,000 cases and just 60 fatalities, despite having a population of 70 million and one of the world’s biggest and most tightly packed cities in Bangkok.
By comparison, the U.K., with a population of about 68 million, has had 1.3 million cases and 51,396 fatalities, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
“This is not an accident,” said Tedros. It’s because, in his view, Thailand made a commitment 40 years ago to invest in its health-care infrastructure and has built out a network of more than a million village health volunteers to act as the eyes and ears of the health system in their communities.
Thailand also learned from its experience in handling the SARS outbreak in 2003, he said.
“But Thailand is also learning the lessons of the present, by working with WHO’s country office to conduct an intra-action review, to understand how it can further strengthen its public health defences,” he said. “I urge all countries to follow Thailand’s lead. No country can say it was well-enough prepared for COVID-19, or that it has no lessons to learn.”
The pandemic has shone a light on the consequences of “chronic underinvestment” in public health and ignited an economic crisis hurting billions of lives, he said.
“The time has come for a new narrative that sees health not as a cost but an investment that is the foundation of productive, resilient and stable economies,” he said.
To support that effort, the WHO is setting up a new Council on the Economics of Health for All, he said, that will comprise economists and health experts and be chaired by Mariana Mazzucato, a professor of the economics of innovation and public value at the University of London, said Tedros. The council will hold its first session online in the coming weeks.
Tedros reiterated his message that countries can control the pandemic even without a vaccine by following the public safety measures recommended by health experts and agencies.
“The virus itself has not changed significantly, and nor have the measures needed to stop it. We know what works.
“First, know your epidemic and do the basics well. Find, isolate, test and care for cases. Trace and quarantine their contacts. And second, engage and empower communities to protect themselves and others with the full range of measures: physical distance, avoiding crowds, ventilation, hand hygiene and masks.”
Tedros’s comments come a day after the world suffered the most COVID-19 deaths in a single day since the start of the outbreak at 11,617, according to the Johns Hopkins data. It also set a new-case record of more than 660,000.
The U.S. continues to lead the world by case tally at 10.6 million and death toll at 242,477, the data show. That’s about a fifth of the global tallies for both.
The U.S. set a fresh record for daily cases on Thursday and a fresh record for hospitalizations.