Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is reaping the harvest of his previous term investment in the welfare and health of the people of the State. Despite all the odds and financial crunch, the Government is committed towards providing better health to one and all.
Manoj Varghese of Indian Currents talked to Pinarayi Vijayan to know the success story of Kerala topping the Health Index.
Q: What is the key to Kerala's health success status?
A: Public investment is the key to the development of any of the fundamental sectors, be it agriculture, health, education, housing, industry and so on. As far as health goes, Kerala has been historically investing in it. During the previous LDF Government, we gave special attention to the public health system through the ‘Aardram Mission’ so that second and third generation health issues can be addressed.
Super specialty services were set up even in Taluk and District Hospitals. PHCs were upgraded into FHCs and OP timings were increased. Major infrastructural development has been ensured across the public health institutions in the State, all the way up to Medical Colleges. We are continuing with such initiatives under the present Government, with advanced planning to address the emergent challenges in the public health sector.
In the wake of COVID-19, we further focused on measures to contain the pandemic, through testing, tracing and isolating. Our Covid mitigation strategy included the participation of LSGIs and volunteers along with the administration, making it an act of truly people's intervention. Though the NITI Aayog Health Index covers the pre-Covid period, Kerala's public health success has extended throughout the subsequent period too.
Q: What has been the key processes initiated by the Kerala Govt in the recent times?
A: I have already made mention of the Aardram Mission, which has provided a facelift to the entire public health system in Kerala. Our focused interventions for mother and child care have helped in improving Kerala's IMR and MMR figures. And during this pandemic, we have focused on life saving interventions like Oxygen plants, additional ICU beds and ventilator support as well.
Q: Till last month, a major chunk of Covid-19 cases was reported from Kerala. What was the reason for it?
A: We have been diligently testing and tracing each probable Covid patient so as to ensure proper treatment and to contain the spread. The fact that our methods are worth emulating have been reiterated even by the Honourable Supreme Court and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. At national level review meetings, both the Union Health Minister and the Health Secretary have congratulated Kerala's exemplary performance in tackling the pandemic.
Several studies have pointed out that Kerala has the least number of unreported cases in the country. Our meticulous planning and implementation of Covid mitigation strategies have ensured that each and every case in the State is reported and treated. It needs to be noted that at no single stage of the pandemic, till date has Kerala's health care system been overburdened. This is a testament of how effective our health system is all about.
Free testing for Covid-19 has almost come to a standstill in Kerala, what is the reason for it?
A: Tests, treatments and vaccinations for COVID-19 are free at all public health care facilities in the State even now.
Q: What has been your priority as a Chief Minister for the Kerala health sector?
A: Health is in our priority list. As Chief Minister my priority has been to ensure an all-round development of the State, along with increasing the scope and scale of welfare measures. By development, we mean sustainable interventions which touch every nook and corner of Kerala. Over the last 5 years our aim was to undertake development projects worth Rs. 50,000 crores through the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board. However, we were able to initiate projects worth over Rs. 62,000 crores. This is in addition to the activities taken up using the Plan Fund and such statutory means. This time around, our goal is projects worth Rs. 60,000 crores in five years through KIIFB alone.
Q: How do you plan to address the new Omicron virus and its effects?
A: The World Health Organisation has stated that vaccination is the best defense against the novel Corona virus. Around 98% of Kerala's eligible population have received the first dose and around 75% have received both doses. Thus, we have already ensured the safety of the large majority of our people.
In addition, we have scaled up the vigil at our airports. All incoming passengers are being screened and passengers from risk countries are being compulsorily quarantined. Only once they get an RTPCR negative report, after their quarantine period is over, are they free to mingle about. Those who test positive are taken to specialised facilities to restrict spread. Their samples are sent for genome sequencing to ensure that those infected by the Omicron variant are especially cared for as well.
Q: How do you plan to bring reforms in the Kerala health sector?
I think, I have already mentioned about our Aardram Mission in detail while responding to earlier questions. We have also revived Public Sector Enterprises like Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited so that life-saving medicines can be provided to the public at a lower cost. We are also utilising the Kerala brand in health care to boost the pharmaceutical industry in the State.
We have set up centres like the Institute of Advanced Virology to conduct research and thereby prepare us for the health care challenges that are emergent. The International Ayurveda Research Institute is becoming a reality. We want to use scientific methods in the preparation of Ayurveda medicine and in the dissemination of our indigenous knowledge with regard to health care. With the abundance of educated youngsters in the State, we are foraying into the BT and medical equipment manufacturing sectors as well, which will in turn provide a fillip to our health sector as a whole.
We are trying to ensure free in-patient treatment of up to Rs. 5 lakh each, for 20 lakh families in the State. For the remaining families, Karunya Scheme is being strengthened so as to provide treatment of up to Rs. 2 lakh. Our effort is to improve all PHCs into FHCs and ensure lab and pharmacy facilities in all of them, even in the afternoons. As I had mentioned about the overall development of Kerala, even with regard to the health sector, it is a holistic vision that guides us, which is quality health care for all.
Q: Any particular message for the backward states like UP, Bihar to improve upon the health status?
A: It may not be fair for the Chief Minister of one State to comment upon another. The situations of other States are best known to those who are a part of it. I am sure that they will objectively look at their conditions and devise strategies to improve them. In that regard, if they require any guidance or assistance from Kerala, we could lend a helping hand within our limited means.