From May to July 2015, public health experts and leaders in Asia and around the world anxiously watched an alarming and deadly outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the Republic of Korea, which sickened 186 and killed 38.a On June 18 of that year, Thailand notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of its first confirmed case—a 75-year-old man who had traveled from Oman to Bangkok.
Despite concerns that the disease would start spreading Thailand was able to stop its first MERS case—and each subsequent confirmed case—with no further spread. Thailand’s success in identifying and stopping MERS is just one example of both the value of health security capacity building and the critical role that a strong healthcare system can play in stopping outbreaks at the source.
Thailand is the only middle-income country to score in the highest tier (i.e., an overall score between 66.7 and 100) of the Global Health Security Index, receiving the sixth-highest overall score (73.2). Thailand is also the only country from the WHO South-East Asia Region to rank in the top tier. What makes Thailand such a strong performer? The country shows robust healthcare capacities, ranking second across all nations for indicators relating to healthcare access. Relevant to its ability to identify and stop infectious diseases like MERS, Thailand also demonstrates an effective system for monitoring and tracking healthcare-associated infections. It is also one of only five countries demonstrating a public priority for providing healthcare services to healthcare workers who become sick while responding to public health emergencies.
Beyond its health system, Thailand has a strong field epidemiology training program and national laboratory system, scoring in the top tier for indicators of these capacities and demonstrating a robust electronic reporting surveillance system that functions at both national and subnational levels, rapidly collecting laboratory and epidemiological information. Thailand also demonstrates strength on prevention and response capability, scoring 75.7 and 78.8, respectively, in each of these categories and conducting regular event-based surveillance through a dedicated Situation Awareness Team embedded in the Ministry of Public Health’s Emergency Operations Center.
The GHS Index shows that Thailand is, beyond a doubt, an international leader in health security.