Updated: August 19, 2021 05:09 AM GMT
A batch of China-donated Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccines arrives at Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, Laos, on Aug. 7. (Photo: Xinhua via AFP)
Authorities in Laos are scrambling to try and contain an outbreak of Covid-19 that has spilled over into the impoverished communist nation from neighboring Thailand where a severe outbreak has been raging for months.
The country recorded its highest rate of 381 infections on Aug. 18, bringing its total tally to more than 11,000, according to officials.
Laotian migrant workers returning from Thailand are believed to have triggered the country’s outbreak, which has been worsened by the arrival of the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.
Nearly a quarter million Laotian migrant workers have returned from Thailand since the pandemic began, according to the latest figures, with many returning in the past few weeks following a comprehensive and prolonged lockdown in Thailand that shut down numerous workplaces.
As many as 30 percent of the latest returnees are estimated to have been infected with the coronavirus, according to officials.
Complicating health screening procedures between the two countries is that many migrant workers have evaded official crossings by passing through porous borders illegally.
Many economically disadvantaged locals living in remote villages, including many minority Christians, lack access to modern medical treatment
A large-scale outbreak of Covid-19 could prove disastrous for Laos, where modern healthcare provision remains in its infancy, especially across the rural areas.
Many economically disadvantaged locals living in remote villages, including many minority Christians, lack access to modern medical treatment or even basic medical provision.
In an address to the National Assembly in Vientiane this week, Minister of Health Bounfeng Phommalaisith said a plant extract recommended by the Institute of Traditional Medicine was being piloted as a potential treatment for Covid-19.
The plant extract could boost patients’ immune system and help them recover better, Bounfeng said.
Traditional medicine, which often amounts to little more than shamanistic practices, remains widespread in Laos.
In neighboring Thailand too, some medical practitioners have recommended using the extract of the green chiretta (Andrographis paniculata), a herbaceous plant known locally as fah talai jone.
“We are confident that fah talai jone can cure Covid-19 patients who have mild symptoms and are asymptomatic,” said Dr. Kwanchai Wisitthanon, deputy director-general of the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine.
The herb extract is now being mass-produced in Thailand for the treatment of Covid-19 patients.
Widespread poverty, lack of proper sanitation and water supply, malnutrition and poor health awareness contribute to the country’s health problems
However, numerous medical experts have warned that herbal remedies have yet to be proven to work effectively against the virus.
Even as the effectiveness of herbal extracts in treating Covid-19 remains in doubt, there are fears that severely ill patients in Laos may not have access to other medical options.
“Laos has no facilities for major medical emergencies. The state-run hospitals and clinics are among the most basic in Southeast Asia in terms of the standards of hygiene, staff training, supplies and equipment,” stated Pacific Prime, an international health insurance broker.
“Widespread poverty, lack of proper sanitation and water supply, malnutrition and poor health awareness contribute to the country’s health problems.”