As India Stumbles, One State Charts Its Own Covid Course
Kerala uses tracking of patients and supplies, a network of health care workers and coronavirus “war rooms” to succeed where the national government has fallen short.
By Shalini Venugopal Bhagat
When India’s second coronavirus wave slammed the country last month, leaving many cities without enough doctors, nurses, hospital beds or lifesaving oxygen to cope, Sajeev V.B. got the help he needed.
Local health workers quarantined Mr. Sajeev, a 52-year-old mechanic, at home and connected him with a doctor over the phone. When he grew sicker, they mustered an ambulance that took him to a public hospital with an available bed. Oxygen was plentiful. He left 12 days later and was not billed for his treatment.
“I have no clue how the system works,” Mr. Sajeev said. “All that I did was to inform my local health worker when I tested positive. They took over everything from that point.”
Mr. Sajeev’s experience had much to do with where he lives: a suburb of Kochi, a city in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Kerala officials have stepped in where India’s central government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has failed, in many ways, to provide relief for victims of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak.
Though supplies have tightened, Kerala’s hospitals enjoy access to oxygen, with officials having expanded production months ago. Coordination centers, called war rooms, direct patients and resources. Doctors there talk people at home through their illness. Kerala’s leaders work closely with on-the-ground health care workers to watch local cases and deliver medicine.
“Kerala stands out as an exceptional case study when it comes to proactive pandemic response,” said Dr. Giridhar Babu, an epidemiologist at the Public Health Foundation of India, which is based in the northern city of Gurugram. He added that “their approach is very humane.”
An ad hoc system of local officials, online networks, charities and volunteers has emerged in India to fill the gaps left by the stumbling response of the central government and many states. Patients around India have died for lack of oxygen in hospitals where beds filled up quickly.
Kerala is by no means out of trouble. Deaths are rising. Workers face long hours and tough conditions. The situation could still worsen as the outbreak spreads.
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