KERALA, India — India has a population of 1.3 billion, with Kerala being the 13th most populous state at 34.8 million people. With a highly populated region, the state had to deal with issues regarding poverty, healthcare, and education over the years. When the coronavirus became evident at the end of January, the Minister of Health and Social Justice K.K. Shailaja Teacher was quick to take action. One of her many concerns were about the impoverished communities and travelers entering the state airport, specifically international travelers. The system used during these past months shows how Kerala’s Health Minister is a pioneer for healthcare during the pandemic.
Kerala’s History With Disease
Shailaja had an immediate concern due to Kerala’s experience with a deadly disease in 2018, the Nipah virus. It led to 17 deaths in Kerala, requiring quick action to contain the brain-damaging disease for which there no drugs or vaccines with a guarantee of full recovery. Nipah virus is naturally hosted in fruit bats but has been found in a variety of domestic animals, too.
State officials struggled to learn how the first case arrived in Kerala. However, they knew the deadly effects it could have if they didn’t control it. The virus has a fatality rate between 40-70%. Additionally, even for those who recover it can have lasting effects. Plus, it is usually transmitted through human-to-human contact. The WHO helped the Indian state in educating and implementing quarantine measures that stopped the spread in 2018.
The Steps Kerala’s Health Minister Took
Shailaja saw the lasting effects of the Nipah virus on communities and the panic it created, especially for those in communities of poverty. Aware of Kerala’s history with deadly viruses and concerned for impoverished communities, she immediately contacted state officials and health professionals in preparation for the first reported case in the state. Kerala became one of the first states in India to begin stay-at-home orders. She also successfully implemented the delivery of groceries and hot food for the population, mainly for impoverished communities.
Additionally, she was concerned about informing the public about testing plans and maintaining pro-poor policies. Shailaja knew that the state needed to keep a strong healthcare infrastructure and increase network capacity so education could continue. Kerala was essential in spearheading the universal health care program, defining and measuring poverty, and promoting self-employment in the past 20 years to lift people out of poverty.
Recognizing Shailaja’s Efforts
The World Health Organization has recognized the systematic way that Kerala’s Health Minister took control of the situation while keeping the safety of those in poverty in mind. Shailaja was essential to the early preparation for quarantine measures because she invested in a stable health infrastructure that was well-trained and informed on new pandemic measures. Her focus remained on reducing travel in and out of the state and tracking the movements of those testing positive.
Equally important is her systematic testing, with concern for smaller villages that many usually ignore due to being remote/rural. Shailaja understood that stay-at-home orders would impede access to essential needs for those in rural areas. Therefore, she put pressure on state officials to start proper food delivery to the whole state and the distribution of stimulus packages for the state population. Kerala also announced an economic package of $2.6 billion in support of fighting the pandemic. The state continued care during and after isolation with psychological support via online portals.
Shailaja’s investment in her state’s rural communities has improved the living conditions and education of those in Kerala. Her system of test, trace, isolate and support allowed success for coronavirus safety. For instance, some have called Shailaja the coronavirus slayer. Her efforts have led to the reduction of panic within the state. This allowed nonprofits such as Unicef and her pro-health care efforts to continue during the pandemic. Additionally, Shailaja was inventive in her solution to increase the supply of PPE (personal protective equipment). Her plan was based on using paid prison work to produce masks and gloves for the frontline healthcare professions, further displaying that Kerala’s Health Minister is a pioneer for healthcare.
During the June 23rd, 2020 UN Public Service Day, Shailaja was one of the few people honored for her work on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. As nations continue to create a strong infrastructure to fight the effects of coronavirus on urban and rural communities, the world recognizes Shailaja for her systematic approach of testing, tracing, isolating and supporting the state population. Kerala has struggled with poverty for decades, but Shailaja has constantly learned. She pushed for pro-poor policies in healthcare and education, which prepared her for the current pandemic. Kerala’s Health Minister is a pioneer for healthcare during the pandemic due to her empathy and interest in improving the living conditions of those under the poverty line.
– Sumeet Waraich