Coronavirus (COVID-19): A grassroots network of local bodies and women’s self-help groups in Kerala has made the state’s fight against COVID-19 a community initiative-a game-changer that is helping it flatten the curve.
With thousands of people put under home quarantine, their non-medical needs requiring looking after, and several hotspots sealed, the local bodies were called in for effective micro-level implementation of the containment strategy.
As surveillance of those under observation became necessary with increasing numbers-at one point it touched 1.71 lakh in Kerala-ward/division level committees were formed under all local self-governing bodies.
The ground reporting by these committees helped the Health Department ensure that those with a travel history even outside their native district remained in isolation. Their vigil also helped guarantee that the state’s mandated quaratine period of 28 days-higher than that of other states-was followed by those under observation.
The state’s women empowerment programme, Kudumbashree, stepped in with massive production of personal care products, which faced a spike in demand from health workers and the general public. Over the last month, the neighbourhood self-help groups under the mission churned out 19.42 lakh reuseable masks and 4,700 liters of handrubs, mainly for the health department. The women under this programme are also taking care of the needs the 4,500-odd elderly persons who are under observation.
A Kudumbashree official said the programme has 1.9 lakh Whatsapp groups with 22.5 lakh members. During the pandemic, these groups were used to broadcast precautionary messages. “After lockdown, we could start 1200-odd community kitchens across Kerala within three days of the the government issuing direction. We have a three-tier communication system, to take directives quickly downstream the organisation and execute an action plan,” said the mission official.
The mission is now expanding its participation in the COVID fight. Last week, it began manufacturing face shields for health workers.
According to State Planning Board Member Dr B Ekbal, the involvement of local self-governments and Kudumbashree mission has taken the state’s fight against COVID-19 to community level.
“Our local bodies have the capacity to handle any emergency and women in the Kudumbashree were prompt to respond. We are now harvesting the fruits of our decentralization of power to local bodies,” he said.
Ekbal, also the chairman of an expert committee advising the government on the virus, was referring to Kerala’s decentralization of power in 1995, when the management of government hospitals-primary to district-went into the hands of three-tier local bodies. Accordingly, a village panchayat was given a major stake in the management of a primary or family health centre. Over the years, several local bodies invested in improving hospital infrastructure and increasing the number of supporting health workers.
Dr Joy Elamon, director-general of Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), said the proactive role of the local bodies and neighbourhood groups under Kudumbashree are unique to the state’s COVID-19 control measures.
Of around 1,200 local bodies in Kerala, about half of them have prepared the draft of their disaster management action plan. “When these bodies were called to respond to COVID-19, the data on spread of aged population and vulnerable sections could be gathered easily due to this draft disaster management plan. Even such panchayats have details about locations where people can be relocated and who require assistance at time of crisis,” he said.