Opinion: Let’s Apply Our Virus Vigilance on Other Calamities

A scene of a road accident in Chonburi province on July 2, 2020.

Imagine what Thailand can achieve if it puts in daily government updates and summary of coronavirus infections to other calamities that plague our country.

With this detailed report and analysis as well as media attention, there’s hope that it can be applied to, say, road deaths or one of the top non-communicable diseases, like diabetes. Imagine.

For road-related deaths, Thailand averaged about 60 killed per day according to a report by the World Health Organization last December. The WHO ranked Thailand at the 9th worst nation on earth when it comes to road-related deaths.

Now, consider that the total coronavirus death is officially 58 as after five months of it spreading. Consider how many more lives we can save per year if we could just reduce it by half.

Remind people daily as to how many have been killed on the road today, just like the government is doing now with coronavirus update. Go into the details to explain how these fatalities occurred. Analyze the locations and exact causes of death.

Is it a drunk driver? How many percent? Is it small motorcycles or big bike related death? Which province has the most fatalities and what is the government and police doing about it?

A scene of a road accident in Korat on June 18, 2020.

Then compare it on a weekly if not daily basis with other key nations, that is the best and the worst performers. Note the best and worst practices of other nations and compared that to Thailand’s. Get various government agencies to work together in an integrated manner and not simply leave it to the police or governor of each of the provinces.

Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration, has been successful in scaring the public to the point where many simply comply with government measures without thinking.

Minus the moralistic lecture, I can imagine Taweesin doing a fine job convincing the public the people should take all necessary precautions to reduce road-related fatalities. I know that many Thais who hate Prayut Chan-coha also dislike Taweesin as well. But give Taweesin some break, so he can do more good.

Now, if only things are that simple.

The problem with road-related fatalities is that people have become so jaded and used to accept the shockingly high numbers as inevitable.

After years of laughable and unrealistic goals like “zero road-related death campaign” during New Year and Songkran Festival, they can’t imagine that the situation could be markedly improved. The media, too, do not see any sense of urgency or importance in reporting about it in a persistent manner.

A campaign on road safety during Songkran holidays on April 11, 2019.

In fact, one can already find daily updates of figures reported by the organization Thai Road Safety Culture.

On Friday, for example, the non-profit group reported that 55 people have been killed in the 24-hour period of Thursday. What’s more, 2,749 people have been injured on Thursday alone. The accumulated death since the beginning of this year or for the past six months stands at 7,511 deaths and 473,909 injuries as of Friday.

These are no small figures. Imagine what we can achieve if we infused a sense of urgency and severity to the problem, so people won’t “let their guard down” like in the coronavirus pandemic.

There is also a morbid curiosity to the coronavirus, which is largely not properly understood by the general public until recently, whereas road accidents are taken for granted. The fear of the unknown, or the largely unknown is real. Road-related death otherwise is just ‘inevitable’ to many – or so they thought.

And there’s diabetes. As many as 200 Thais die of diabetes-related illness on average per day, according Thai Diabetes Association in November last year. As many as 4.8 million Thais are suffering from diabetes and rising, the association said.

Having more sweets, refined rice and bread, and being a couch potato leading a sedentary life is more tempting if not more comfy than getting up early in the morning for jogging during the weekend.

If only the government and the media spent as much resources and attention on diabetes like they did to the coronavirus, instead of ignoring or abetting the rising culture of junk food and sweet drinks readily available everywhere.

Many commend Thailand for defying the odd and beating the coronavirus. Now let’s move on to other problems in our nation with the same gravity.