‘Body snatchers’ risk their lives to save virus patients

Global media have nicknamed them the “Body Snatchers of Bangkok” because they snatch up victims of accidents on the capital’s roads and carry them to hospitals. But these volunteer rescue squads are now on the front lines of the pandemic, transporting the sick to hospitals, and putting their own safety at risk in the process.

“None of us do this for the money. We just want to help people and give something back to society,” said Pholpaisan Maksap of the Ruamkatanyu Foundation, associated with the Buddhist temple of that name in Bangkok’s Chinatown district.

Although the volunteers have been given full protective gear to use while working, and trained on how to deal safely with suspected COVID -19 patients, they are still nervous about the potential danger they face.

“Of course, we’re scared of contracting the virus and worry about carrying infection back to our families, but if we stop working during this period, the workload may overwhelm staff at hospitals,” Pholpaisan said.

While every hospital in Bangkok has some ambulances, most do not have a large enough fleet to handle the daily caseload. Over several decades, an informal system that relies on volunteers from temple foundations has emerged to fill the gap.

According to the Bangkok Post, volunteer foundations handle more than 65 percent of emergency cases in Thailand, ferrying those in need to hospitals without charge. Sadly, they also transport the deceased to morgues.

The Ruamkatanyu and the Por Teck Tung Foundations are the most well known of the “body snatchers,” named after a Hollywood science fiction film from the 1950s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

“We now have six rescue teams and four ambulances prepared for COVID-19 cases. However, none of them has yet responded to any confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases,” said Somboon Kwan-uam of the Por Teck Tung Foundation.

He said, however, that members of all the foundation’s rescue teams have received protective gear and training on how to avoid COVID -19 infection. The units may be called to handle emergencies, such as road accidents, in which people could be infected with the virus but are asymptomatic and so can infect others, including the volunteers.

Members of both foundations strongly urged the public to follow the government’s social distancing guidelines.

Photo courtesy of https://m.facebook.com/pg/atpohtecktung/