October 20, 2021

ADRA Seeks to Minimize COVID-19 Risks among Migrants in Thailand

Thailand had its first COVID-19 case in January 2020 but was successful in containing the coronavirus until December 2020. By January 2021, COVID-19 cases had increased drastically, according to local reports. Since September 29, the accumulated number of cases has ballooned to more than 1.5 million, with more than 10,000 new cases per day.  

Thailand authorities aim to administer 63 million doses of COVID vaccine in three stages before the year ends. The first target population that would receive vaccines as declared by the local government was high-risk populations with underlying conditions, including frontline health-care workers, laborers in the hospitality and service sectors, and then the general population. 

Identifying Those At Risk 

In Thailand, there are 2.3 million people who are reportedly migrants from Myanmar, with hundreds of thousands more from Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Vietnam, according to Quentin Campbell, country director for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

“The population who are the most vulnerable and marginalized are migrants, who provide a significant labor source of essential industries,” Campbell said. Reports suggest that migrants constitute more than 10 percent of Thailand’s total workforce. 

“In Thailand, many migrant workplaces have now become epicenters of COVID-19 transmission. Though the local government has made substantial progress providing public services to migrant workers, utilization of social and financial barriers remains due to added burdens of stigmatization, low-income status, lack of access to health-care services and welfare programs,” Campbell said.

According to Campbell, most migrants are undocumented and live in remote areas far from public services, with limited access to COVID-19 prevention and vaccine information. Migrants who registered in Thailand’s public health insurance program will be eligible to receive a vaccine, but it is estimated only 51 percent of migrants have done so. 

Campbell added that agricultural migrant workers with less than a year’s contract to work in the country are ineligible to join the program, which would exclude them from receiving the vaccine, according to a 2019 Thailand migration report. 

In January, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the leading intergovernmental organization in the area of migration in Thailand, conducted a rapid assessment among 316 migrants in Mae Sot, Tak Province. The agency found that migrants were getting paid less than the average worker and that work hours were reduced after the COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand.

IOM Thailand findings also indicated that roughly 21 percent of migrants were unable to find jobs, 68 percent reported an income reduction, only 73 percent have access to face masks, 42 percent had access to hand sanitizer, and 59 percent reported they had not received information on COVID-19 in their areas. 

Aiding the Helpless 

“We are targeting seven migrant communities in Mae Sot, Tak Province, bordering Myanmar, which is a common destination for migrants,” Campbell said. “We also hope to provide aid to 5,000 migrant workers, including 1,000 school-age children.” 

To address increasing access to COVID-19 information among the migrant population, Campbell said, ADRA will participate in coordination meetings and organize vaccine information campaigns to target 3,000 migrants in collaboration with local Adventist churches and local authorities. Another 2,000 migrants will be reached through partnerships with local civil society organizations.

Additionally, he said, there are plans to arrange hygiene awareness promotions that include information about physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and mask-wearing. More than 500 households are expected to receive hygiene items. Campbell said he expects 85 percent of households provided with hygiene items will report regular use of at least one hygiene item to reduce exposure to COVID-19.

“Another barrier to tackle is communicating to migrants in their language,” Campbell said. “Speaking their language and getting information to them in a format they understand will help build trust and increase the likelihood of the population applying effective health practices.” 

To do this, Campbell added, information handouts will be disseminated in Burmese to meet the target group’s needs. Training will also be conducted to form community engagement teams that will assist the most vulnerable and marginalized within migrant communities, including persons with pre-existing conditions, children, seniors, and women with low literacy, to facilitate participation and empower them.

Additionally, ADRA will establish partnerships with local Adventist churches, public health organizations, and health facilities to engage community leaders who play a crucial role as health awareness influencers. 

“At the end of our response, the migrant communities we serve will be surveyed to gauge their thoughts about the COVID-19 virus and prevention information they receive,” Campbell said. "We hope to see if perceptions among the migrant community change concerning COVID-19 vaccines and assess what COVID-19 prevention means to them.”

The original version of this story was posted by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency.