July 11, 2021 9:38:20 am
In an address delivered to the students of the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB), former Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja noted the importance of states investing in public health to mitigate risks of responding to crises, like the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A major lesson from the COVID-19 response is that states that do not invest in their government health system are at risk of compromising their capacity to respond to a crisis. In the short term, it is imperative that governments continue to strengthen their public health system and augment capacity,” she said while virtually delivering the Foundation Day Lecture of the Centre for Public Policy (CPP) at IIMB.
Shailaja added that the ongoing crisis could be seen as an opportunity to unleash the potential of the human capital, “to orient workers and labour markets towards new opportunities for inclusive and sustainable growth as the pandemic has proved to be a litmus test for governance across the world.”
Shailaja, who was also in charge of the Social Justice, and Woman & Child Development in the previous Pinarayi Vijayan-led cabinet, suggested encouraging enterprises based on innovation, new technologies and entrepreneurship with a focus on gender and women empowerment.
Listing a rigorous testing regime, a clear communication and people management strategy, through campaigns like ‘break the chain’, and coordination in activities across ministries and departments as critical policy areas in Kerala’s response to the pandemic, Shailaja said a sustainable response to the pandemic, although made possible by a robust health system, also relies on the resilience of many other sectors.
“In Kerala, the Finance Ministry released all the required funds. The health department, police, IT department, public distribution system and others worked together. Thousands of young men and women across the state have volunteered in the last year to assist the government in COVID-19 care. Technological innovations and Artificial Intelligence have been effectively integrated into the process,” she explained.
‘Population density, ageing population among challenges in tackling pandemic’
The former Kerala Health Minister also added that the challenges in tackling the pandemic in the state included demographic-related factors like population density and an ageing population, and epidemiological challenges like the increasing incidence of lifestyle diseases that cause comorbidities and heightened risk, especially during the pandemic.
She highlighted that such challenges were addressed with attention being paid to prevention and primary care and by converting Primary Health Care Centres into “well-equipped” Family Health Care Centres.
“The fact that more than 50 per cent of the state’s population rely on the public health system as compared to 33 per cent in 2016 was testimony to the people’s trust in the state’s health system,” she said as she stressed the importance of public trust and cooperation.
Fondly known as Shailaja Teacher, she was conferred with the Janani Award 2021 for Public Health Leadership instituted by the Integrated Health and Wellbeing (IHW) Council and the Central European University (CEU) Open Society Prize 2021 in recognition of her commitment to public health services with regard to Kerala’s response to the Nipah outbreak and the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. She was also invited as a panel member at the third Human Rights Council inter-sessional meeting for dialogue and cooperation on Human Rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
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