Kerala was the first Indian state to report a case of COVID-19. And when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24, Kerala had the most cases of any state. But after the lockdown, while most states kept reporting a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, Kerala is one state that reported a decline. Smart strategies and decades of investment have helped Kerala fight the pandemic in possibly the most efficient way. The state has been so successful in ‘flattening the curve’ that many now speak admiringly of a ‘Kerala Model’ for handling public-health emergencies.
How did Kerala go from being the worst affected state in the country to one that rapidly flattened the curve? What lessons can other affected states take from it?
One of our most read authors, Dhruv Rathee, breaks down the success of the ‘Kerala model’ into 5 key points.
- Extensive testing and quarantine
Since issuing its initial COVID-19 alert on January 18, the state has screened all arrivals at its four international airports, and immediately hospitalised or quarantined suspected cases. On February 4, Kerala declared COVID-19 a state-level disaster, and shut schools, restricted public gatherings, and instituted lockdowns in early March. By the time the central government had followed suit weeks later, Kerala had already deployed more than 30,000 health workers and placed tens of thousands of people in quarantine.
- Contact Tracing
Hundreds of contacts of each infected person were traced. Whether they met someone at the tea stall or interacted with someone at their workplace. All of these contacts were traced and put under compulsory home quarantine. The state government involved the local panchayats on a large scale. 100-200 volunteers were involved with every panchayat. So the encouragement of local bodies and civilians to become active and work together with the public healthcare system helped with contact tracing in a big way.
- Full support to people in home quarantine
Although a lot of people were home quarantined in a lot of states, the Kerala government went a step ahead and declared that they would take care of the quarantined people. More than 16,000 teams were made by them to help more than 1 lakh quarantined people. These teams were stationed in call centres and their duty was to call up the quarantined citizens to ask if they needed food, rations or medical care, and assured them that they would be provided with these items through home delivery. Infact, there were teams for mental care and depression as well. If the quarantined people felt alone, trapped and unable to step out, then these teams provided mental support through calls as well.
4. No discrimination
No citizen, whether infected or a contact of the infected person, was discriminated against. Everyone was treated with equal respect and care. This levelled up a sense of trust that the state put in its citizens such that people duly reported their symptoms and contacts truthfully, without the state forcing them to do so. This sense of civic responsibility allowed Kerala to break the chain of community transmission as people understood why they needed to stay home.
5. Follow up testing
The people under home quarantine too were tested and followed up and the rest of the scarce secondary cases were detected well in time. If most of the cases that initiated from travellers and contacts are traced right at the start, the epidemic won’t spread, and that is exactly what Kerala did.
Kerala’s success offers clear lessons for the rest of India, both in responding to the current crisis and in preparing for the next one. To know more, read Dhruv Rathee’s explanation and interview with Dr. Shukla who is a public health specialist, activist and the national co-convener of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan.