Thai officials admit trouble containing serious diseases among migrant workers

Thai officials admit trouble containing serious diseases among migrant workers
PHOTO: The Straits Times

HIV and drug-resistant tuberculosis are the most prevalent health hazards detected among migrant workers.

The Department of Disease Control (DDC) revealed that in 2014 more than 400,000 cases of HIV among foreign workers were reported, while incomplete treatment of tuberculosis had caused the disease to become drug resistant. In addition, previously eliminated diseases such as leprosy had reappeared in Thailand because of labour migration.

Disease Prevention and Control 2 Phitsanulok Office director Sakchai Chaimahapruk said there were many problems containing infectious diseases among foreign workers. They included the lack of proper health check-ups for migrant workers, discontinued treatment causing diseases to become drug resistant, and a medicine and funding shortage.

"We are now having problems containing trans-border diseases. Some diseases, which were eradicated from Thailand long ago, such as leprosy, have reappeared in the border areas. We also have problems treating infectious diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis," Sakchai said.

He said it was impossible to check everyone because Thailand receives millions of foreign workers each year, both legally and illegally.

The DDC reported that in 2014 there were 400,500 cumulative HIV cases, 7,270 malaria cases, 3,252 tuberculosis cases, 232 elephantiasis cases and 47 leprosy cases detected among foreign workers. It was noted that the statistics might have discrepancies because of duplicate cases.

Seksan Srikaew, acting director of disease control at Mae Sot Immigration Bureau, said the bureau performed disease inspections for serious infections such as Ebola and Mers on travellers everyday but did not prioritise localised infectious diseases.

"We are looking for group travellers who might be carrying serious diseases. If we notice individuals showing signs of sickness, we will conduct a quarantine procedure to diagnose their illness," Seksan said.

He admitted that immigration officials had insufficient manpower and resources to operate the health inspections properly. Also, illegal immigration evaded inspection entirely.

Another problem is that some foreign workers do not apply for the Universal Health Coverage (UC) insurance scheme so they do not have a health examination, Sackchai said.

"Even if we detected workers who were infected, they usually did not finish the treatment properly and ceased medication before they had taken all the prescribed drug dosage, leading to drug resistance," he added.

"This was because many foreign workers usually migrate to the inner business areas. The case transfers were complicated and many did not continue their medication."

He said that funding was also a problem because some drugs were not on the list of medicines available for foreign workers' UC insurance. The problem is complicated because The Global Fund's HIV antiviral drug sponsorship expires this year, so a new sponsor needs to be found.

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