Many health issues occurred in 2022 ranging from the easing of Covid-19 control measures, the discovery of the first monkeypox patient and liberalising the cannabis law.
1. Covid-19 curbs ease
The National Communicable Disease Committee (NCDC) downgraded Covid-19 from a “dangerous communicable disease” to a “communicable disease under surveillance” in October as part of the country’s plan to enter a normal endemic period.
Covid-19 was declared a dangerous communicable disease in late February 2020 by the NCDC which allowed health authorities to respond more quickly in containing outbreaks.
However, owing to the declining number of daily infections and large number of people vaccinated, the Ministry of Public Health in October seized the chance to minimise outbreak controls, as the government tried to reboot the economy.
Later, many other preventive measures were eradicated, including the need for a vaccine passport to smooth travel arrangements.
Since then, the number of tourists has increased and finally reached over 11 million visitors this year. The tourism industry is poised to reap the most benefits from relaxing regulations to control Covid-19.
However, during the present cold season, the number of infections is on the rise again, with no additional measures to control the disease.
The ministry has stuck to the same message about the need for hand washing, mask-wearing and social distancing to avoid infection.
It also suggests senior citizens get the full dose of the vaccine and a booster dose because they are in the risk-group for severe symptoms and death.
This year was also the first time for toddlers aged six months to four years old were eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, but the number of vaccinated toddlers is still below target.
A medic in Pathum Thani teaches a woman to use an antigen test kit in September. Local healthcare centres are now being run by Provincial Administrative Organisations. Pattarapong Chatpattarasill
2. Cannabis ructions
The National Narcotic Board removed cannabis from the narcotics list in June.
The board’s decision was made to support the Ministry of Public Health’s proposal to promote the plant for medical treatment. However, it caused public controversy when cases arose of youths misusing cannabis in public.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and many state-owned agencies declared cannabis-free zones in schools, temples and government properties.
Meanwhile, the ministry imposed rules to prevent cannabis smoking in public places. Sales to people aged under 20, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are also prohibited, along with online sales or sales via vending machines.
The Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine recently included cannabis and hemp buds in the list of controlled herbs, where any use or sale of cannabis must be authorised by the department.
Those who flout the rules face a fine of up to 20,000 baht, a term of one year in prison, or both.
So far, police have arrested 14 vendors who sold cannabis buds without licences including six merchants on Khao San Road, another six in the Thong Lor area and two in Sukhumvit Soi 11.
However, the House has yet to pass the controversial cannabis and hemp draft law, which is the only law that bans cannabis smoke in public spaces without a need for a public complaint.
Many parties want to put cannabis plant back on the narcotic list. The law has reached the second reading stage in the House and the Bhumjaithai Party, which sponsored the law, expects the House will pass the bill next year.
Scientists display a container of cannabidiol (CBD) extracted from cannabis buds at Biotec’s Pilot Plant in Pathum Thani on Sept 8. The Public Health Ministry backs the use of cannabis for medical purposes. AFP
3. Monkeypox scare
The Department of Disease Control (DDC) in July confirmed the first case of monkeypox in a patient in Phuket. However, it played down public fears of the disease spreading rapidly like Covid-19.
Despite the low rate of outbreak in the country, the department warned that male-on-male sexual behaviour is likely to lead to infections. Fewer than 20 confirmed cases have been found in the country since the outbreak was first detected in July.
The DDC declared monkeypox a communicable disease that is under surveillance, but not yet a “serious” communicable disease” because it is not virulent or highly contagious.
The healthcare system, meanwhile, was capable of handling patients infected with the disease, it said. It asked all health clinics or hospitals to report any suspicious cases to the department.
It advised medical units to take blood samples of such patients and keep patients in hospital until they receive a confirmed result.
The Department of Medical Sciences said it was ready to produce a vaccine if needed because it had kept many smallpox vaccines in storage.
A team of provincial health officials clean a condominium in Phuket where the country’s first recorded case of monkeypox was found on July 22. Department of Disease Control
4. Budget wars vex sector
The Ministry of Public Health and the National Health Security Office (NHSO) clashed regarding the annual budget for medical treatment.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul insisted he had no intention to delay the annual budget. But he said legal interpretations in support of health promotion activities for people holding the universal healthcare card were unclear.
The NHSO insisted the public health minister had full authority to sign the document. It said an additional budget for healthcare promotion would be extended to people holding other privileges beyond the universal healthcare scheme such as privileges under the government’s pension scheme or a social welfare scheme.
The healthcare promotion budget, which the minister refused to sign, includes a free service for screening non-communicable diseases.
The NHSO argues prevention is better than cure so it designed many programmes to prevent such diseases.
However, Mr Anutin had a different point of view, saying the healthcare promotion budget should be allocated to people holding the universal healthcare card only because people who hold different healthcare privileges could access the treatments they need though other health insurance systems.
The ministry decided to approve the regular budget for medical treatments under the universal healthcare scheme and put a hold on the controversial proposal. Mr Anutin said he would sign the document when cabinet agreed with the NHSO.
About 500 universal healthcare cardholders rally in Bangkok on Oct 6 after the NHSO terminated contacts with some clinics and hospitals over fraud allegations. Chanat Katanyu
5. Staff transfers spark protest
Ministry of Public Health staff protested against delays in the ministry’s decision to transfer them to state offices.
The ministry previously committed to transfer those staff whose job was related to Covid-19 disease control as a reward for their efforts. At least 30,000 healthcare staff were already placed in their posts and more than 20,000 staff were waiting for their turn.
The ministry said approval will be granted by the Office of the Civil Service Commission, which was out of its hands. Many medical staff demanded an explanation for the delay.
Meanwhile, the ministry encountered new problems transferring tambon health promotion hospitals and community healthcare centres nationwide to come under the local administrative organisations of the Interior Ministry.
The policy was based on cabinet’s resolution dated March 25 and July 26 this year. However, any transfer must be done on a voluntary basis.
At present, 3,264 of 9,775 community hospitals have expressed their intention to move from the ministry, or 33.39%. However, many still prefer to stay with the ministry, arguing their jobs will be more secure.
Under the devolution proposal, all budgets to manage and operate local community healthcare centres will be allocated by local organisations.