India should follow Kerala's model to contain the virus
Kerala's proactive measures like early detection, social support measures and technological advances that beat any developed nation helped the state flatten the curve.
The state has done it again. Even as many parts of the world are trying to get a grip on the virus, Kerala, the tiny state south of India, has not just flattened the curve, itself an exemplary feat, but is commencing the convalescent plasma therapy to treat the critically-ill Covid-19 patients. The state has also created an app whereby its diaspora can connect with specialist doctors for advice on the virus, and is now planning a phased relaxation on the lockdown. It is also drawing out a blueprint for the gigantic task of embracing the multitudes of Malayalees who now wish to return to their homes.
Not rich by any stretch of imagination, Kerala does not have a flourishing industrial sector or a successful agricultural sector. It has nothing to boast of when it comes to natural resources, too. Yet, this state is now the cynosure of all, with nations trying to emulate its model. But, of course, saying that the state lacks in resources would be a misnomer. Its people are its strength. Its GDP per capita may be low, but it has been scoring consistently high in human development indices.
The Malayalee, with his indomitable spirit and equipped with his literacy, forms the workforce of every nation occupying range of positions from the top to the menial. They rise to become the richest businessmen, the most efficient executive, the deft doctor, proving their mettle in their field in their countries of residence. Students from Kerala go far and wide to improve their academic prospects, and it is the three students from Wuhan who carried the virus back to their homeland, which means, the virus reached Kerala's shores even before it reached other places. But the state was prepared. As its health minister KK Shailaja, or Shailaja teacher as she is fondly known, said, "We hoped for the best but planned for the worst." She set the machinery in action, knowing very well that the state's people would return from all over the world. With a strong chain of command - from the authorities to the health department and field workers - the three medical students were quarantined as soon as they landed from the epicentre of the virus and every effort was taken to ensure their well-being. And today, they are all fine, set to continue with their lives.
Well, there is no one feature one can pinpoint to if asked about Kerala's success in containing Covid-19. It is its forward thinking, its planning, excellent healthcare services, high literacy rate, and most of all the state as a whole rising as one to deal with the crisis - just as it came together to defeat the Nipha virus, and just as its people, the leadership stood together to beat the devastation after the two consecutive floods - that helped contain the spread of Covid-19.
Credit goes to the Communist government of the state for decentralising power enabling the methodical functioning of the system. Elected panchayats, municipalities, and corporations stepped in. The state reached out to its people by enlisting the help of primary health centres, taluk hospitals, district hospitals, health inspectors, law-enforcement agencies, and the anganvaadi workers who worked from the grassroots level not just to gather information but also to disseminate information and ensure help reached the people. They created a consciousness which the literate communities comprehended and became mindful. The well-organised tracking system starting from airports, railway stations, and major transit points transmitted information on to the local bodies and the state government simultaneously, so much so that even before the passenger reached his or her destination all arrangement were made for the quarantine. The follow-up calls, and the constant supply of essentials have been a solace to those in quarantine.
Ensuring food supply for all is indeed a mammoth task. But Kerala was ready for that, too. Officials, the kundumbashree and ayalkkottam workers, and the common man participating as volunteers got together to provide food and shelter even to migrant workers.
The state's proactive measures like early detection, social support measures, technological advances that beat any developed nation such as rapid testing kits in hotspots to check spread and walk-in checks have helped the state flatten the curve. Even as the number of cases rises elsewhere, patients in Kerala have been recovering. Elderly parents aged 93 and 88, and eight foreigners, four of them who were critical are just a case in point, adding yet another feather to Kerala's cap.
But it's not yet time to say that all is well. The state now faces the potentially disastrous challenge of its people returning from outside and from within the country. The challenge is enormous. But Kerala will overcome - its leadership, its people and its investment in education and healthcare will come to its aid. For the time being, the state needs time to prepare itself so that when we return, we do so to a safer place and make it safe for the state too.
Roopa Kurian is a senior journalist based in the UAE