Authorities in Laos are scrambling to try and contain a Covid-19 outbreak that has spread to the impoverished communist nation of neighboring Thailand where a severe epidemic has been raging for months.
The country recorded its highest rate of 381 infections on Aug. 18, bringing its total to more than 11,000, officials said.
Laotian migrant workers returning from Thailand are believed to have sparked the country’s outbreak, which was made worse by the arrival of the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.
Nearly a quarter of a million Laotian migrant workers have returned from Thailand since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest figures, many of whom have returned in recent weeks following a full and prolonged lockdown in Thailand that has closed many workplaces.
An estimated 30% of the last returnees were infected with the coronavirus, officials said.
To complicate health control procedures between the two countries, many migrant workers have escaped official crossings illegally through porous borders.
Many economically disadvantaged residents living in remote villages, including many Christian minorities, do not have access to modern medical treatment
A large-scale Covid-19 outbreak could prove disastrous for Laos, where modern healthcare is in its infancy, especially in rural areas.
Many economically disadvantaged residents living in remote villages, including many Christians belonging to minorities, do not have access to modern medical treatment or even basic medical care.
In an address to the National Assembly in Vientiane this week, Health Minister Bounfeng Phommalaisith said a plant extract recommended by the Institute of Traditional Medicine was being tested as a potential treatment for Covid-19.
The plant extract could boost patients’ immune systems and help them recover better, Bounfeng said.
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Traditional medicine, which often only boils down to shamanic practices, remains widespread in Laos.
Also in neighboring Thailand, some doctors have recommended using green chiretta extract (Andrographis paniculata), a herbaceous plant known locally as fah talai jone.
“We are convinced 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 Traditional and Alternative Medicine in Thailand.
The herbal extract is now being mass produced in Thailand for the treatment of Covid-19 patients.
Widespread poverty, lack of sanitation and water supply, malnutrition and poor health awareness contribute to the country’s health problems
However, many medical experts have warned that herbal remedies have yet to be proven effective against the virus.
Even though the efficacy of plant extracts in treating Covid-19 remains uncertain, there are concerns that critically ill patients in Laos may not have access to other medical options.
“Laos has no facilities for major medical emergencies. Public hospitals and clinics are among the most basic in Southeast Asia in terms of hygiene standards, staff training, supplies and equipment, ”said Pacific Prime, an international health insurance broker.
“Widespread poverty, lack of sanitation and water supply, malnutrition and poor health awareness contribute to the country’s health problems.