Kochi: Anna Kook – a story teller, videographer and editor has produced an exemplary documentary video on how Kerala efficiently contained the spread of Covid-19. Kerala’s strategy in fighting the virus has become a model not only for other Indian states but also to the world. It even left behind the U.S.A., which is the world’s most economically strong country in the world.
Trace, test and treat
Kerala’s Health Minister, K.K. Shailaja also known as the “Corona Slayer” when heard about the spread of mysterious disease in China, immediately amassed a rapid response team and adopted the strategy of trace, test and treat, even before Kerala received its first coronavirus case.
The first confirmed Coronavirus case in Kerala was detected on January 27 from a student arriving to Kochi from Wuhan.
According to Kook’s video, the Kerala government had accumulated testers in large numbers, randomly tested people, which gave results within 48 hours. Kerala’s strong community leaders encouraged, cooperated and allowed extensive tracing. By 11 April, 401 tests per million were done.
Kerala’s population is similar to that of New York, Georgia and Alabama combined. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is below $2,000, which is far less than $62,886 — the GDP per capita of the U.S.A. [Source: World Bank] and yet, as the U.S. reached 100,000 Covid-related deaths by the end of May 2020, Kerala had only seven.
Secret of success
When asked to Dr. Aju Mathew the secret of this success he replied, ‘there is a sense of unity, there is a sense of preparedness, there is a sense that we have done this before. We can do it again.’ Dr. Mathew is an Epidemiologist in Kochi in Kerala.
According to Kook, Kerala’s success depends upon two things: Its strategy and its political infrastructure.
Kerala uses a socialist model of governance in which the decision-making and goal setting lies in the hands of the common population. Kerala did a really great job in flattening the curve very early. We have let people take care of their communities and made public health care easily available to them.” Said Dr. Shahid Jameel, Indian Virologist and CEO of Welcome Trust.
According to Kook, there had been creative and impactful advertisements, that educated the people about the virus and motivated them in taking the precautions. In her video, Kook compared the difference between the responsibility and strategy between the U.S.A. and Kerala where President Trump was shown boasting, “this is a great country of ours, we have 240 cases. Most of those people are going to be fine.”
Break the Chain Campaign
The government of Kerala launched the “Break the Chain Campaign”. Dancing police officers and robots informed citizens about handwashing and hygiene.
“The administration’s messaging that they should ensure physical distancing. But social cohesiveness should be intact. We have framed exceptional campaigns.” Said Dr. Mathew.
Kook said, Kerala was far ahead than the other states of India, in relaxing the lockdown. She further adds, Prime Minister Narendra Modi just gave a four-hour notice before he announced lockdown, which forced thousands of migrant workers to walk hundreds of miles to reach their homes. They faced hunger and death on the way due to the lockdown.
Whereas, workers in Kerala were provided with shelter and food and later they were sent back to their homes in trains. Kerala had a public distribution system, people were given ration cards for collecting free food kits.
Hotline facility was also provided to the patients, to call their families so as to save them from the impact of loneliness, which could have made them psychologically sick.
“I strongly believe that lockdown without safety net is torture.” Said Dr. Mathew.
Kook said, the success of controlling the pandemic has got a lot to do with its political system. For decades, Kerala’s communists have been regularly voted into power. They, and the other left-wing governments have invested heavily in education and health care.
She gave an example that, while Kerala spent 6.5% of its state GDP on health care. The whole of India spent just over 1% of its GDP on public health. Kerala also has one of the lowest rates of poverty in India. It has also the highest literacy rate in India, which is 94%.
“This cannot be built in a few months. It requires decades of empowering communities, empowering people and the population with literacy.” Said Dr. Mathew.
According to Kook, there seemed to be a lack of coordination between president health officials.
Dr. Jameel said, the most important thing is that communication should be clear between the leader of the country and health experts. Otherwise, it won’t help.
Kook says, another advantage for Kerala is that it learnt from its past experience, when it handled the Nipa virus outbreak in 2018. Kook further adds, it should be remembered that, Kerala is technically a communist-led state that still struggles economically. But still, the rest of India could learn something from Kerala. The country is now opening back up despite cases still soaring, overwhelmed hospitals and low rates of testing.
In her video, Kook inserted some footages and file photos and tried to prove that Kerala never propagated blind beliefs and quackery like how President Trump suggested injecting disinfectants. Cow urine therapy was widely circulated among Hindu groups in India as a treatment. Kerala is also free from vices like how Asian Americans in the U.S. faced racist attacks. Indian Muslims were also attacked and blamed for being virus carriers under Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
She showed a video clip of Mohammed Naeem, a resident of Dadar who said, “After asking my name they said you are a Muslim, you destroyed the country. You have spread coronavirus. And then started beating me with sticks.”
Kook questioned, if the U.S. can’t replicate Kerala’s political system, the question is: “What is the lesson can America gain from a place like Kerala?” “I think leadership that knows how to follow good science.” Replied Dr. Mathew.