WHO Thailand, World Vision and the Department of Disease Control join to help improve health literacy for migrant hotline responders.
As COVID-19 continues to threaten livelihoods, it’s vitally important that health authorities continue to relay important risk messages to everyone in Thailand, including migrant workers and their families from neighboring countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam. It’s equally important for migrant communities to have a point of contact they can rely on when they require information or practical support. To meet this need, the COVID-19 hotline 1422 was established in April 2020 by the Department of Disease Control of the Ministry of Public Health with technical input from the WHO Office for Thailand and partners such as the World Vision Foundation of Thailand (WVTHA). The hotline serves as a trusted source of information on COVID-19 in six languages: English, Thai, Khmer, Laos, Burmese and Vietnamese. Thanks to generous funding from the European Union the programme has provided high-quality training to hotline responders, to help them to raise awareness of preventive measures.
On 25 June 2021, a third virtual training session for 29 hotline responders (17 from World Vision Thailand and 12 from Raks Thai Foundation) was organized by the Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health, WHO Office for Thailand and World Vision Foundation for Thailand at Prasan Jai meeting rooms 1&2, the National Health Commission Office. Spread out over half the day and broken up into several small sessions, the refresher course was conducted by clinicians and public health practitioners whose goal was to arm the responders with technical knowledge on COVID-19 and vaccines, as well as providing tips on how to support people with mental health issues and to deal with frustrated or rude callers.
“I feel so good to be able to help my fellow citizens from Myanmar,” said Mr. Kyaw Thet Khaing, who has been a migrant hotline responder for over a year now. “I wanted to be part of the solution by sharing my knowledge and providing answers to the most frequently asked questions – like how to get tested if someone suspects they’ve been infected with COVID-19, how to self-isolate, or how to register for vaccines.”
Thailand attracts a steady stream of migrant workers from neighboring countries each year, who rely on a stable income that allows them to send remittances back home. The emergence of COVID-19 made it crucial for them to avoid being infected and unable to work. In December 2020 when the COVID-19 outbreak got out of control in Samut Sakhon, there was an increased need to communicate about preventive public health measures to the large number of migrant workers. Increasing the capacity of the hotline strengthened this link to the affected communities and helped to mitigate the impact of the outbreak.
"The callers are not just getting information in their own languages, but also counseling and support," says Aree Moungsookjareoun, National Professional Officer at WHO Thailand who has supported the hotline project from the beginning. "This means we can connect this group to the government system in line with our 'whole of society' and 'whole of government approaches'. More importantly, we need to equip the responders with the skills needed to recognize serious cases that require urgent attention and facilitate their access to healthcare facilities”.
“The hotline responders are very dedicated and really want to help their fellow citizens,” said WHO consultant, Dr. Surasak Thanaisawanyangkoon. “We realize that especially during this third wave where cases are increasing sharply, there needs to be seamless communication from the time when a call is received until the point where they get admitted to the hospital. Through working more closely with the government, I’m certain that we can ensure a smooth and effective process and save more lives.”
There are now 58 of hotline responders providing vital information to migrant workers who call Thailand their home, working to improve health literacy and strengthen knowledge about basic preventive measures.
Sung Seo San, an 18-year-old student who lives in a community of 300 Vietnamese nationals in Bangkok’s Bang Khen district, decided to lend a helping hand when approached by a health volunteer.
“I do this because I know I can help,” he says. “I answer about 30 calls a day and they’re mostly questions on the benefits of vaccines and how they can avoid getting infected. With the Delta variant spreading, I feel it’s not just a role I play in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19, it’s also my duty.”