The South Indian coastal state of Kerala has a population of over 35 million people and a large expatriate population. The state reported its first COVID-19 case in January 2020. Kerala’s response to COVID-19 included quickly implemented response measures drawn from its recent experiences with other crises and emergencies, such as the NIPAH virus outbreak in 2018 and the Kerala floods that caused massive damage and mass evacuations.
Early contact tracing and quarantining of people infected with the virus, along with continued testing for community transmission, has helped control overcrowding in hospitals. As the numbers continue to rise, Kerala’s government has put measures in place to mitigate the economic and social crises that may arise from the pandemic. In addition, Kerala’s response focuses on providing key resources for its people and protecting vulnerable groups. The relevance of these initiatives becomes more pronounced as the pandemic carries on.
Using Technology to Spread Awareness
Kudumbashree is a poverty eradication and women’s empowerment program. In response to the pandemic, the organization has created three groups on WhatsApp, a popular messaging platform, to educate members and spread awareness about COVID-19. Its campaigns, such as Break the Chain, emphasize the importance of washing hands. Kudumbashree’s motivation campaign focuses on encouraging wholesome, healthy choices and activities for citizens to engage in during lockdowns.
Community Kitchens and Shelter
Another key part of Kerala’s response to COVID-19 are kitchens organized by panchayats, or village councils. These kitchens offered free meals to those affected by the pandemic. Kudumbashree also organized free shelter and meals for migrant workers from other states, as well as those in quarantine or isolation. In addition, budget hotels have offered low-cost meals, which are packed and distributed at canteens or kitchens and delivered to homes. Free childcare centers for young children, called anganwadis, ensure free groceries and meals are delivered to the homes of children enrolled in their programs.
Psychosocial and Employment Support
During the pandemic, Direct Intervention System For Health Awareness (DISHA), a 24/7-telehealth helpline, has contributed to Kerala’s response to COVID-19. The organization has reported receiving several thousand calls from citizens each day, many about mental health concerns. DISHA refers these callers to the District Mental Health Program (DMHP), which consists of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and nurses in each district of Kerala. DMHP supports citizens under psychological stresses that arise from the pandemic, including substance abuse and withdrawal symptoms. In addition, DMHP checks on quarantined citizens to ensure their mental well-being. The helpline, mental health services and medication provided by DMHP are free of cost.
To help citizens find work, the National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (NREGS) guarantees 100 days of employment for people above the age of 18. Usually, women over the age of 40 are the main demographic that makes use of the program. With the onset of the pandemic and resulting unemployment, however, the NREGS program has reported high enrollment even among youth.
Reverse Quarantine for Senior Citizens
More than 17% of people living in Kerala are senior citizens. Intending to protect this population, the state government implemented reverse quarantine, a strict stay-at-home requirement to keep those above 65 away from people who may be infected. Also, the government moved vulnerable senior citizens residing in highly affected areas to institutional quarantine centers to ensure better care. Additional measures for Kerala’s older adults include regular check-ins for senior citizens who live alone.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise worldwide, Kerala’s response to COVID-19 may ensure safety, care and recovery, both in citizens’ personal health and in the economy. This is especially true for the state’s more vulnerable citizens. If these methods succeed, Kerala may provide a model for other communities around the world.
– Amy Olassa