Tatler Heroes: 5 Thais Leading The Fight Against COVID-19
As COVID-19 broke out in Thailand, doctors, entrepreneurs and others who simply had the will to help stepped up to the plate to do their part in flattening the curve in our country. These individuals use their influence to bring hope through their actions, their ideas and their examples. As Tatler Thailand says thank you to all who have put others and the nation first during this time of great need, here are just some of the heroes amongst us that you should know about.
1/5 Dr Narin Hiransuthikul
Professor Dr Narin is the head of Chulalongkorn University’s Covid-19 emergency operation centre and one of Thailand’s top experts in disease and epidemiology. His team developed a Covid-19 strip test that delivers results in 15 minutes. After more than 100 trials, tests have shown a 95 per cent accuracy rate. The strip testing service is now available at Chulalongkorn University by first registering online. He explains that while the Chula Covid-19 test strips do not replace conventional polymerase chain reaction tests, the goal is to ease the burden on hospitals as more and more people visit them to be tested.
2/5 Sireethorn Leearamwat
As a girl, Sireethorn Leearamwat dreamt of becoming a beauty queen because she saw the role as a way of helping others. After graduating in 2018, she went to work as a pharmaceutical sales representative, but at the age of 25 she entered and won the Miss Thailand 2019 beauty pageant and has taken on the role of a cultural and tourism ambassador with aplomb.
To alleviate pressing face mask shortages, particularly for healthcare workers, Sireethorn, together with Prangphisut Daengdej, has established Mask Bank. One of the growing concerns in Thailand is that face masks had become wildly overpriced.
With a goal of raising THB100 million, Mask Bank aims to present a long-term solution by building factories to make them for THB2.50 per piece. Her Kickstarter campaign has a minimum purchase of THB1,000 for 400 masks, with 200 for personal use and the other half to be donated to the buyer’s choice of medical institution or organisation. The project has already raised over THB20 million and Sireethorn hopes to be able to start producing masks soon.
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3/5 Dr Yong Poovorawan
The fourth of six siblings, 69-year-old medical professor Dr Yong Poovorawan had early aspirations to follow in the footsteps of his older brothers and study engineering. But his eldest brother advised him to pursue medicine and eventually Yong enrolled at the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University, from which he graduated in 1972. He continued his studies with a diploma in pediatrics and certification from the Medical Council of Thailand, and was offered a research fellowship at the Liver Sciences Department at King’s College Hospital Medical School in 1984.
Following his return, Yong obtained his professorship and lectured at the Department of Pediatrics at Chulalongkorn University. The current head of the Center of Excellence in Clinical Virology rose to international attention in 2004 for his work on genetic sequencing and the detection of the H5N1 avian influenza virus in Thailand, receiving awards from the Thailand Research Fund and the National Research Council for his efforts. More recently, he has spoken about the psychological effects of public panic during the Covid-19 outbreak.
As a leading expert in the field, Yong works with the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation and the Thai Red Cross Society to raise awareness of Covid-19 and how to cope with the daily challenges of self-isolation and social distancing measures. He is also spearheading testing of the use of blood plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients in the treatment of severe cases.
For Yong, as a medical professor, developing the next generation of qualified medical professionals is a priority. And he says he will lead by example, continuing to teach, conduct research and develop new methods that adopt technology because, as he points out, new diseases are part and parcel of modern life and future generations must be prepared to fight them.
4/5 Sakson Rouypirom
Founder, SATI Foundation
While the emphasis at the non-profit SATI Foundation is on helping disadvantaged Thai youth, its founder, Sakson Rouypirom, regularly lends his support to others in need. In light of the global coronavirus pandemic, he has used his influence and pulled together resources to form an alliance of like-minded people to assist those most at risk from the disease.
In collaboration with Scholars of Sustenance, a charity focusing on food surplus collection and distribution for low income and underprivileged communities, and Urban Studies Lab, an urban knowledge and data management centre, Covid Relief Bangkok was formed. It is an organised and transparent programme working to mitigate the plight of Bangkok’s most in- need groups—the elderly, disabled, orphans and refugees. Covid Relief care packages include sanitation products such as face masks and alcohol-based hand sanitisers, gels and soaps, as well as preserved foods, rice and canned fish.
Using demographics data to identify and locate the most in-need communities in Bangkok based on age and income, Covid Relief Bangkok care packages have already been delivered to approximately 200 elderly and low-income households in Nanglerng district. Three more priority sub-districts mapped out for deliveries in May include some 13,000 households with senior citizens and almost 5,500 low-income homes. With the support of the Health Volunteer Foundation, the distributions have been carefully planned to maintain social distancing and reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
Sakson, a New York University graduate, has also teamed up with Aliza Napartivaumnuay of online social enterprise Social Giver, which now allows people to make donations of 300 baht to cover a Covid Relief pack for one family. “The outpouring of positive energy and the desire to help has been incredible and we are only just getting started,” he says. “If we all combine forces for the same outcome then we can get through this together.”
In just its first week of operation the project attracted nearly 1,000 supporters but much more help is still needed. Join the effort at fb.com/groups/covidreliefbkk and make a difference.
5/5 Panachit Kittipanya-ngam
Making use of his skills at the vanguard of the COVID-19 fight in Thailand is Panachit Kittipanya-ngam. As the Thailand Tech Start-up Association had an abundance of resources and skilled workers on hand to fight the coronavirus, Panachit gathered colleagues to form a group called Ped Thai Su Phai (Thai Ducks Fighting Danger).
With the sharing economy in mind, the project aims to match the right person to the right service—that means pairing the people who might be infected with the doctors they need.
One of Ped Thai Su Phai’s first initiatives was to create a site to offer accurate news and information. Using an online patient screening system, people can enter details of their symptoms to be evaluated into three different categories of risk. The data is sent to doctors and hospitals that can then establish consultations with prospective patients.
The project’s latest effort is an app called PedKeeper, which tackles the limitations of temperature screening by classifying users as high-risk or low-risk based on their recent travel abroad, using data supplied by the Department of Disease Control.
For his expertise in generating start-up businesses, Panachit was recognised with the National Start-up Leadership of the year award in 2016.
The Chulalongkorn University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications engineering and a master’s in digital signal processing also holds a doctorate from the University of Manchester in imaging science and biomedical engineering.
Panachit began his professional career as a researcher at the A*Star institute in Singapore where he spent six years before becoming the assistant director of True Corporation’s Innovation Center in 2014. He also aided the Thai government as the director of its innovation department and co-founded accounting services platform AccRevo, before dedicating his time to his role as president of the Thailand Tech Start-up Association. In 2019 he established yet another one, Ztrus, an AI-based process automation firm.
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