By Ahffan Kondeth
Education is key to the Kerala model that is doing remarkably better than Washington.
Seventy years after driving out its British colonial rulers, India is engaged in a second freedom struggle to expel another foreign invader — a newborn deadly virus called Coronavirus.
And what makes it more interesting is that a small state called Kerala that’s half the size of more than 40+ American states, but has a larger population than all but California, is establishing a model to overcome any pandemic.
The tiny state on India’s southwestern Malabar Coast is very different from the rest of India when it comes to education, literacy, food habits and political tastes.
It’s the only state in India where a coalition led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is in power, and the nation’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has only one seat in the state assembly.
Pretty much all religions coexist in the state very peacefully. It’s a very common sight to see temples, churches and mosques sharing boundary walls.
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But this time, Kerala is making news for another reason — its powerful model to fight the Coronavirus competing at an international level. Going against all odds, it has been successful so far in keeping COVID-19 at bay.
Only two years ago, Kerala was hit by an even more deadly Nipah virus claiming 17 lives at a mortality rate of more than 95%.
The first doctor who treated one of the early patients was quick enough to diagnose an unusual pattern in the symptoms and the health department was quick to jump in to tackle the situation.
The government tracked down every single patient and created a list of 2000+ people to be isolated and quarantined.
With the help of all elected representatives regardless of their political affiliation, Kerala was able to contain the Nipah virus. This in a nutshell shows how advanced the state is when it comes to health care.
In early January, when Chinese officials announced to the world about the novel Coronavirus outbreak, it was not an unknown scenario for Kerala.
Kerala was quick to prepare itself for what was yet to come. Clear instructions and decisions started flowing from the top leadership.
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Knowing full well that their efforts would succeed only with all round collaboration, meetings were conducted at the highest level with the Chief Minister, Health Minister and various other departments.
Thanks to the learnings from Nipah outbreak in 2018, Kerala has now become a structured and well organized health organization.
Point to be noted is that when developed countries like Italy acted somewhat causally and let the virus spread,
Kerala model primarily concentrated on educating and informing people using all modes of communication.
All travelers landing at Kerala airports regardless of their travel origin, risk associated country or not, are screened for any unusual symptoms and their details are recorded.
In case of symptoms, passengers are transported in a separate ambulance to the local district government hospital.
They are placed in an isolation ward for a couple of days before any further decision is taken based on the test results from the virology department.
Now, if you are a resident who has not traveled outside, but has similar symptoms, government asks a simple favor, just call the local health authorities or your primary care physician and you will be taken care of.
And all this is free of cost to the individual.Yes, You heard it right. No insurances involved. Wow!!
Probably not a single Keralaite would be unaware of the developing situation related to Coronavirus in the state.
The Health Minister ensures that there is at least one press meet daily to update the status and address people’s concerns.
The instructions flow down in a waterfall model where the communication even reaches my remote village through proper authorities. In the age of social media news and Whatsapp universities, such a clear communication path is very important.
The government ensures every tiny detail comes from authorities concerned and there is no fake news floating around. This was how earlier fake news about treating Coronavirus with hot water and garlic was killed at the beginning itself.
The government and opposition parties alike initiated public campaigns like “Clean hands” and “Break the chain” to educate people about how to stop the spread of the virus.
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With the motivation, general public also cooperates well. Wedding functions have been called off, religious leaders are advising followers to stay home and no prayers are conducted at mosques, temples or churches.
All modes of communication are used to the fullest extent to keep people updated. In case of slippages of missing a patient in the beginning, interviews are conducted with the patient and a route map is prepared and with the help of local channels, it is communicated to the public.
Transparency helps to win the trust of general public a lot! What Kerala has achieved in the short time frame is quite remarkable. To get an idea of how remarkable it is, let us compare some numbers with the US.
Washington metropolitan area comprising Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia, where I live is double the size of Kerala with half the population.
The Coronavirus infected numbers are exponentially increasing in the region daily. The numbers changed from three to 100 in a matter of one week.
In contrast, Kerala has kept the number below 50 despite the first case being reported even before the one in the US. Remember we are comparing a developed country with a developing country with resource limitations.
The state has been successful in keeping the social index on par with most developed countries and even surpass some European countries. The overall literacy, education and liberty in the state has helped it achieve what it is today.
Kerala is successful in creating a model that the world can adopt. Keeping the citizens informed and motivated at the same time is not an easy task.
The resource limitations did not come in the way of its efforts to contain the virus and become a model for many to follow in the future. The key here is to act quickly and keep the public on your side.
That’s the only way to stop the panic and keep prepared. With a very densely populated area and a high level of social mingling, Kerala has its own challenges coming in the near future.
But for a developing country with very limited resources to achieve this feat is unprecedented. Other nations would do well to study and try out the Kerala model in this hour of crisis.
(Ahffan Kondeth, an information technology professional from Kerala, lives in the Washington, DC, area.)
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