It has been almost half a year since the COVID-19 first spread, and we are still looking for a vaccine or any effective cure for this virus. Labs all around the world are working with all they have got, including the ones in Thailand. However, it is predicted that it will be at least one more year until we discover the vaccine or the treatment.
Although we still have to wait for the vaccine, the situation in Thailand is getting better. Since the beginning of May, there have been less than five confirmed cases per day. The government has started to relax the lockdown, the businesses are gradually reopening, and people are living the “New Normal” lifestyle. However, there is still fear of the second wave of infections.
In this article, Assoc. Prof. Dr.Pharuhat Tor-Udom, Director of Thammasat University Hospital discusses the current situation and how ready the Thai healthcare system is to combat the second wave.
Assoc. Prof. Dr.Pharuhat says, “I think it is possible to lift the lockdown policy if the number of confirmed cases remains low. Our health care system is well prepared, and we can take care of both patients with a minor and acute medical condition.”
“After lifting the lockdown policy, there are several ways the situation could have turn out. The first one is what we fear- the big second wave of outbreak. If there are over 10,000 confirmed cases in a day, the system will not be able to take good care of everyone. This is because 5% or 500 of the patients will be in a severe condition and we only have around 400-500 ICU/ COVID-19 care beds available.”
“The other situation could be that there might be a small wave of not over 100 cases per day. In this case, I strongly believe that there will be enough hospitals and staff to take care of the situation. The last one is an ideal outcome, and the most likely to happen. There will be only a small number of confirmed cases per day and all we have to do is maintain some of the policy and protocols until the vaccine is developed, which can range from a year and a half up to two years.”
Assoc Prof Dr.Pharuhat thinks that Thailand has learned a lot about taking care of COVID-19 patients. At Thammasat University Hospital, the staff is using Real-Time RT-PCR to test for the virus, as suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO), which takes around 6-8 hours. While waiting for the results, the staff also use the digital portable X-ray equipment called “FDR nano” equipped with a new image processing part connected with software such as Artificial Intelligence-Computed Aided Diagnosis (AI-CAD), in collaboration with Fujifilm (Thailand) Ltd. This is one of the most important screening tools. It assists medical teams to diagnose COVID-19 with more efficiency in less time.
“COVID-19 is an Emerging Infectious Disease (EID), which means the staff doesn’t have a lot of experience in interpreting the chest x-ray. We would have to send the picture to the radiologist and that could take a lot of time and there might be some errors because of the quality of the image. Therefore, AI plays an important role in this process, creating a one-stop service point. AI can process the image, and identify whether there is something wrong with the lung or not within one minute after the x-ray. This process makes screening and taking care of the patients much faster compared to the RT-PCE process. With this machine, the hospital is well prepared for testing and screening around 30-40 potential COVID-19 patients per day,” Assoc Prof Dr.Pharuhat added.
“This AI helps boost the efficiency of radiography in every diagnosis. At first, we used this technology only with COVID-19 screening at EID Clinic. Now we have applied it to other diagnoses as well because the program can detect and identify these abnormalities such as early detection of Lung Cancer, other chest infections, and signs of heart disease. Today, the virus is still spreading. Even though we have had experience with the first wave of spreading, without the lockdown policy, it is important that everyone still wear face protection, wash their hands, and practice social distancing. Everyone can help us drive the economy, society, and even the healthcare system forward.”
“And soon, we will be able to live in our “New Normal” lifestyle without having to leave someone behind.” Assoc Prof Dr.Pharuhat concludes.