Kerala’s Covid-19 response will prove critics wrong

public health spending in budget 2023
Half of the public health budget comes from the National Health Mission that saw a 1.2% increase in allocation compared with the previous year.

Kerala’s Covid-19 response has been branded as a failure by almost all who has an opinion on the pandemic. Even people within the state started feeling that something is amiss. By the time the state’s daily confirmed Covid-19 infections crossed 10% of its population, pessimism about the pandemic started setting in among the population. Despite the gloom at home and outside, the game was on and the fight was live.

Slowly but steadily, the first glimpses of victory can be seen from a distance. For a state that had early gains in the fight against the coronavirus, a bad phase was something really difficult to swallow. The bitterness was nauseating and there was a sense of doom everywhere.

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Everyone will make mistakes at some point in their lives. That is certain. But how many will learn from those bad days and take the ultimate turn to victory is what matters at the end of any game. From being stamped a failure on the forehead to one that is finally proving to be right, the Kerala strategy is finally getting its grip on the control stick. And critics are slowly looking for camouflage.

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Kerala’s Covid-19 response

Kerala saved the most lives without filling her hospitals or choking her people with lack of oxygen. There was not a single day at any of our hospitals when a Covid-19 patient was waiting for a bed or a doctor to arrive. The state has done reasonably well to be labelled a success. Why many Malayalees wanted to see it fail is a mystery. It’s our people and our blood here. And if we are not seeing the truth, don’t expect others to come to our rescue.

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A state with the lowest death rate from Covid-19 (just 1 in 200) and the one with the maximum vaccination coverage (36.2%) cannot be a failure. There is no logic in that “failed Kerala” tagline. There is a reasonable amount of clarity about Kerala’s Covid-19 response. The state’s health system seems to be scoring a victory. The fact is that the state was never losing the battle. It just had some bad sessions for the critics to cheer and make some noise. The end is a lot more pleasing to the eye. So are the waves that are losing the energy. The state’s frontline workers do not need any cheer leader, just a decent acknowledgement will do.

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TPR doesn’t tell the entire story

If you are still obsessed with the cumulative numbers and the TPR, you need to look deeper. All that matters is what happens to people when they get infected by Covid-19, not how many are getting it. TPR is just the bug inside you, not the job it can do, because every other person is vaccinated now. Kerala’s Covid-19 response that successfully flattened the curve for the first one year, there was a hidden threat. The highest proportion of uninfected people came with the flattening business. And when delta variant reached the shores of Kerala, it was the perfect setting for a disaster.

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For a thickly populated state with the highest aged population in the country and pretty high rates of lifestyle diseases, there was no escape route at sight during the early months of the delta carnage. Things started getting out of control for more than a month. By the time the state saw the true picture, it changed its strategy and pumped up the vaccination drive.

The state was swift in redesigning its containment strategy too. That master stroke is paying rich dividends right now. The worst is over and there is no going back to bad days now. The only safe shore is complete vaccination. It might take another three months or so for the clean-up act, but the state is breathing easy now. Most of the adult population of the state is expected to be covered by vaccination programme in the next couple of months, paving the way for the reopening of schools before the end of this year.

Businesses are slowly recovering and most places are near normal. Some people are still busy finding fault with the Kerala’s Covid-19 response. Others are busy at work and play and they are not going to bother about the babble much. In the meanwhile, Kerala had a decent festival season without much fuss.

(Dr Manu Raj is a paediatrician, clinical researcher and research methodologist based in Kochi. Views are personal.)