BANGKOK — Health authorities on Friday said guidelines for frontline health workers are being reviewed in the wake of the death of the first Thai doctor to perish from the coronavirus.
The health ministry also said it will investigate the circumstances that led to Panya Hanphanitphan, M.D., being infected with the coronavirus. The 66-year-old doctor, who was based in Maha Sarakham province, died from the virus on Thursday morning.
“We will have to see who had the sickness at his clinic,” health minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters. “The fact that a physician died from COVID-19, even though he wasn’t employed by the public health ministry, is a serious issue for us.”
Anutin said he has appointed public health perm sec Kiattiphum Wongrajit to investigate Panya’s death and trace the infections. One key question the investigators will look into is whether any patients infected with the coronavirus had visited Panya for treatment without disclosing their conditions.
“The public should continue to be on guard for infection by wearing masks, washing hands frequently, and avoiding crowds,” Kiattiphum said.
“Most importantly, if getting treatment at a medical facility, do not hide your infection risk. Tell the truth to healthcare workers and staff, so that we can prevent a loss like this again.”
Panya was the first doctor in Thailand to die from the coronavirus. He died on Thursday at Maha Sarakham Hospital, where he had worked for 35 years. The doctor tested positive for the virus on Feb. 2. Maha Sarakham has logged a total of 19 infections and 3 deaths.
‘I Love Being a Doctor’
Panya ran his own clinic in the province, and he was the former head of internal medicine at the Maha Sarakham Hospital. He also worked as a professor at Srimahasarakham Nursing College.
Wipawan Peungpetch, who had been a patient of Panya’s for more than 10 years, laid down flowers at Panya Medical Clinic to pay her respect on Thursday.
“My house is nearby, so whenever I’m feeling ill I will just walk over to the doctor’s. He was a kind person and had a good personality. He would treat very poor patients for free,” Wipawan said. “What a loss. We Maha Sarakham people love Doctor Panya.”
His former workplace also honors Panya’s life and work in an online statement.
“The doctor always told us, ‘I Love being a doctor’ and ‘doctors have to show love for their patients.’ They weren’t just words, they were his actions,” Maha Sarakham Hospital wrote.
Born on July 23, 1955, Panya started working at the public hospital on April 1, 1980. At that time, Maha Sarakham Hospital had fewer than 30 doctors to 372 beds. Panya was one of the three internal medicine physicians there.
The hospital noted that Panya personally monitored a patient in an ICU after they tried to kill themselves by overdosing on pills. He also conducted free medical checkups in the community, especially for the bedbound.
Laddawan Buranaworasilp, a nurse who has been working at Maha Sarakham Hospital since 1997, said at Panya’s funeral, “The doctor was like a family member. Even when it wasn’t his shift, he would take his time to check up on his patients.”
“He just wanted people to get better,” Laddawan said.
Panya is survived by his widow, Jittinuch Hanphanitphan, and three sons.
“Although his COVID-19 infection came from a patient and led to his death, he did his duty as a doctor to the fullest,” said one of his sons, Panichpan Hanphanitphan, at the funeral on Thursday.
“You are amazing, papa, you are my hero. I am so lucky to be born your son. Thank you for taking care of me and teaching me to be a good person,” Natthawarot Hanphanitphan, another son of Panya’s, wrote on Facebook. “My tears are falling. I hope you reach heaven. We love you.”
The health ministry said at least 36 health professionals have been infected with the coronavirus in Thailand so far, including 6 of them who contracted the virus from their patients.
The government was supposed to start an inoculation program against COVID-19 for frontline health workers this month, but that hasn’t happened so far.