CORONA CHALLENGERS: KK SHAILAJA

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Photo credit: Economic Times

It is not just journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, but the rest of the country, too, which seems to echo his thought, “what Kerala thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.”  A quick look at the swift action taken by the Kerala Government and it’s easy to understand why Kerala has done remarkably well in containing the spread of Coronavirus. And leading the efforts is the State’s Minister of Health & Social Justice, KK Shailaja also known as ‘Shailaja teacher’.

On 30th January the first of three students, from Wuhan, landed in Kerala. Because of the foresight and preparedness shown by Shailaja and her team, the student was taken to an isolation ward, in her home district of Thrissur, straight from the airport! The student was Kerala and India’s first COVID-19 patient.  

From the beginning of February, the State asked all those returning from countries, affected by COVID-19, to home quarantine for 28 days. This was done two weeks before the Central Government called for a 14-day home quarantine for those returning from overseas. As the number of COVID-19 cases in India continue to surge, Kerala and Shailaja continue to make news – because unlike the rising numbers elsewhere in the country, Kerala has reported 375 cases (as of April 12), with 2 deaths.    

Apart from initiating the ‘break the chain’ campaign, making social distancing compulsory, Shailaja and her team are winning praise for stepping up surveillance, testing, treating, and counselling measures. This is not the first time that Shailaja finds herself combating a pandemic. In 2018, she was at the helm when Kerala was struck by the Nipah virus. The experience of having successfully combated the the spread of the Nipah virus is also coming in handy for the State’s Health Department as they go all out to contain COVID-19.

According to a Washington Post article, in the first week of April alone, Kerala had conducted more than 13,000 tests, accounting for 10% of all tests done across India.

Shailaja, in an interview to Huffington Post, credits her years of teaching Physics and Chemistry, as well as her experience as a Left activist, in understanding the need for scientific temper and reasoning. “Fighting an epidemic like corona requires scientific temper, humanism and a spirit for inquiry and reform. Superstition, credulity, emotionalism and irrationalism will derail the whole process by dispiriting and discouraging the experts and health activists who try hard to resolve the threat scientifically. In Kerala, we have initiated stringent police action against those who attempted to spread stupidity in the face of virus scare. That was among the main reasons why Kerala made some early advantages in checking the spreading of the virus,’’ she said.

It’s probably Shailaja and her team’s planning for the worst which is helping the State hope for the best as it begins to witness a bend in the curve! And if we go with Rajdeep Sardesai’s train of thought, then if Kerala bends the curve today, there is hope India will bend it tomorrow!