As the Corona virus outbreak has led to the imminent threat of widespread infections and bereavement, the world is facing a stand still, forcing itself to form new norms of ‘home quarantine’ and ‘work from home’ as the pandemic proliferates across the world. As some of the greatest world powers have failed miserably in protecting its people and to do away with the virus, a small state in the southern part of India becomes the ray of hope.
US President Donald J. Trump, while delivering his 2019 State of the Union address in front of the Senate, Congress, Supreme Court justices as well as members of his cabinet, said “We are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism. America was founded on liberty and independence and not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free and will stay free.” Though the ignorance to which Trump concerns himself with socialism is visible, his consciousness in understanding the social reality is very little, not to forget that these words are coming from a former billionaire businessman who, as Bernie Sanders claims, has gotten $800 as tax breaks and subsidies to build luxury housing in New York. However, the consequences of depending on capitalism have started to haunt him as the lack of public healthcare and public distribution system have led the US in taking over China to become the country having reported the highest coronavirus cases. The free markets have shown how pathetically they could fail humanity over profits.
With countries claiming that private institutions getting in competition with each other provides better ‘efficiency’, they have also made the people pay heavily on their right to life, provided that 90% of people are charged extortionately for medication in the developing nations. Capitalism has taken away people’s freedom to go for social quarantine in times like these and has transferred those privileges to the rich. The way private healthcare functions in times of a pandemic have made countries ponder about the need of government owned public institutions. The need for public healthcare as well as a public distribution system of essential commodities is now an imperative.
Is There A Model To Copy?
Perhaps the best example of a framework about how a society should overcome a crisis has to be learned from the experiences of the communist-ruled Indian state of Kerala, which has shown quite the efficiency needed in tackling the virus. Kerala, the state that had overcome a series of challenges like the Nipah virus and the great floods over the past two years, has made the world realise that having a strong public healthcare can do wonders in the time of needs.
In sharp contrast to the inadequate measures taken by India’s Central Government, ruled by the extreme right wing Bharatiya Janata Party, Kerala knew it had a mountain to climb. Even before day 1 of the case of corona was reported, the state made all the necessary efforts to tackle its spread including directions to screen passengers from all 4 international airports in the state and to the formation of a Rapid Response Team to decide upon the isolation and treatment of the doubtful patients.
Kerala was able to prevent the transmission of the virus successfully when the state met with its first cases of Corona when three medical students of Wuhan tested positive, all later released after testing negative twice. From there on, Kerala’s management skills stood out from the rest of the country. When the virus struck for the second time, the state was under strict vigil. There was already a control room set up, with experts keeping an eye on the people contaminated as well as on suspects. The doctors as well as the medical staff and healthcare workers were given adequate training. With strict measures such as state lockdown exempting essential needs and travel restrictions, the number of doubtful cases that were hospitalised daily decreased rapidly and many people were discharged after diagnosing negative to the virus. The on-time transmission of monitored information worked out to be effective, thus helping the state government to keep the situation under control and gain the trust of the people. Kerala is now ready to fight the virus even if it spreads at the community level.
No Need To Panic
From having media briefs everyday to the launch of a dedicated app to give updates about the real-time situation, Kerala made sure that the information was reaching the public on time, including the prevention protocols and advisories, without people needing to panic. The mental health of the people was also given prioritization with more than 140 counsellors in 14 districts being appointed to give psychological support to the people who were put in social quarantine and hospital isolation, knowing that they might face stigmatisation and alienation from the general public. With the way Kerala managed to overcome Nipah, people now treat words like quarantine and isolation as a household terminology and it has started to look less terrifying to the people. After having successfully fought the Nipah and now effectively fighting Covid19, Kerala has provided itself as a model for India’s Central Government and rest of its states on how to not panic in such situations and go ahead with problem solving if such a case comes up in the future.
Pooling Other Departments
Amidst the ascending infection, people buying more items like masks and hand sanitizers led to the shortage of those essential materials across the state. This was a great concern as the lack of supply of these materials worried the people. However, this time too, the government came out with an effective working plan to combine the efforts of other departments as well, to produce the necessary materials. The Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd, a public sector undertaking of the government, ascertained that they would produce enough sanitizers for the state. Kerala’s Social Justice Department put forward the idea to the Prisons Department for engaging the prisoners in the state to manufacture masks, as they churned out 6,000 masks within a short time span of two days. The government also gave strict instructions to the department to not sell them beyond the normal maximum retail price.
Putting People First
It was at the same day when the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, addressed the country for the first time, mellowing with requests and emotional drama, Kerala’s Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, announced a relief package of 20,000 crore rupees ($2.6 billion) to be spend state-wide. Starting with providing free mid-day meals to the anganwadi (pre-school) kids while their classes were dismissed to increasing the internet bandwidth forcing the people to stay at home during the lockdown, each step taken by the government turned out to be of purpose. The government announced that social security pensions amounting to ₹1320 crore that was to be given in April would be given to the people by the end of March. Plans to give loans worth ₹2000 crore to needy families via Kudumbashree Mission, a community of neighbourhood help groups of women in Kerala, was also made to make sure that money remains in the hands of people when they are not able to go out to work. A multi-crore health package of ₹500 crore was also infused to boost healthcare infrastructure across the state.
Nobody Will Starve
The government also announced the giving away of free ration to people irrespective of income and opening of low cost hotels that charge only ₹20($0.26)/meal, alongside promises to make sure that essential commodities and food items will hit the stores. In an extraordinary move, the government has now started to work on building over 1,000 community kitchens across the state, so that no one goes hungry without getting food, all at a minimal price. What is interesting here is that the government has also taken measures to deliver free food directly to those who can’t afford it during the period of lockdown, so that their dignity is not questioned in front of others.
The government has also taken measures to deliver free food directly to those who can’t afford it during the period of lockdown, so that their dignity is not questioned in front of others.
Taking Care Of Migrant Workers
During the 21 day lockdown across India, the southern state has put forward an example that other states can follow. Kerala, by acknowledging migrant labourers as ‘guests’, will open 4603 relief camps across the state for almost 100,000 labourers, providing them free food and medical care. This happens at a juncture when migrants in other states of India are forced to walk hundreds of miles back to home.
Role of Public Healthcare
Even if a comparison is made with Kerala and rest of India, there are a few factors that make such an easy control over the pandemic only possible to this state. Kerala has a strong public health care network with an average of one Primary Healthcare Centre for every 3.95 km, while the national average is for 7.3 km. This is why the Kerala Government is able to spend and instruct its healthcare machinery effectively, albeit the Central Government being inefficient due to its disproportionate average of having 1 hospital bed for 1,826 people, 1 doctor for 11,600 people and 1 ventilator for 333,333 people. And what should be rather alarming in this situation is that the statistics of people tested with the virus in a small state like Kerala alone amount to 30% of the country, with states like Gujarat having done only 0.06 tests per lakh population and Maharashtra with 1.37 tests (Reports as of 24th March).
The Kerala Model
The Kerala Government now plans to induct 2,36,000 youth across the state to volunteer in its Sannadha Sena, a voluntary organisation, understanding that these policies need manpower to execute. Thus in each step, Kerala has taken adequate and on-point measures to overcome this crisis. It is not just in these cases Kerala has led by example within the country, it has been on top of India’s overall rankings and has continued to go above the national and states averages in various developmental indices such as HDI, Infant Mortality, Literacy, Transparency, Communal Amity etc, making the state often compared with other developed nations. It has also retained itself in the top slot of SDG India Index. The way in which Kerala has put forth an example has brought in praises from other states and countries with many states requesting the government for helping them out for implementing its methodology in their state.
All figures being pointed out, what is here to decipher is that it’s not just the administrative skills alone that have made Kerala effectively tackle the virus, but the presence of a strong public health care system and a stronger intervention of government mechanisms, handled by a pro-people left government, made it look so intriguing. If Kerala lacked an ecosystem of public institutions and instead remained privatised in the hands of few individuals, they couldn’t have been able to overcome issues with ease.
Courtesy – SocialisteEconomist