Our control room for epidemics has been active for the last 11 years, says Dr Amar Fettle
A senior consultant paediatrician, Dr Fettle has worked on health emergencies in Kerala for the last nine years, including outbreaks and epidemics such as HIV, H1N1, bird flu and NipahUpdated: May 24, 2020 16:13 IST
On May 2, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) lauded the Covid-19 containment strategies and public healthcare system in Kerala which saw the first outbreak of the disease in the country.
Speaking to journalists in an online interaction, Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar, chief of ICMR’s epidemiology and communicable diseases, said, “Kerala is offering one of the best containment strategies and it is unparalleled. So we will continue to refer to Kerala Model as far as testing and containment strategies are concerned.” As of May 15, the state had reported 587 Covid-19 positive cases, 87 of which were active.
On May 11, Dr Amar Fettle, Kerala’s state nodal officer for Covid-19 explained Kerala’s preparedness and strategy during a video interview conducted from Pune. The interview, ‘Behind the Kerala model’ was conducted by Dr Arun Gadre, a gynaecologist and founder-member of Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare, on behalf of Vicharvedh, a forum for progressive thought in Maharashtra.
A senior consultant paediatrician, Dr Fettle has worked on health emergencies in Kerala for the last nine years, including outbreaks and epidemics such as HIV, H1N1, bird flu and Nipah.
Within two days, the Union government’s alert was received and the Kerala health authorities began gathering information from various national and international sources.
Simultaneously, the state’s healthcare surveillance system was put on alert to look out for respiratory infection, fever, clustering and other symptoms or signals of Covid-19.
He noted that the state health department’s control room that had been formed in 2009 to tackle the H1N1 epidemic had been functioning throughout the last 11 years and was once again activated. In the last 11 years, we have formed wonderful teams of district nodal officers and others in the 14 districts of Kerala. They are all young people wanting to do something out of the beaten track,” he said.
On January 26, the Kerala Government published the country’s first comprehensive guidelines for coronavirus management. The state took early lead in alerting its airport and seaport health officers and in creating a system of screening, surveillance, transport to hospital and isolation centres at its four airports itself.
The control room was expanded and 18 sub-divisons created to deal with procurement of medical equipment, surveillance, lab testing, documentation, media management, monitoring of rumour mongering on social media, infrastructure development, human resources development, recruitment, public media management and ambulance transportation.
Dr Fettle said principal health secretary Dr Rajan Khobragade and the minister of health and family welfare KK Shailaja Teacher, along with the health secretary would sit with them in the control room to deal with the situation.
The team prepared the worst-case scenarios and developed guidelines for each of them.
He gave a detailed account of how the state dealt with India’s first case of Covid-19-- a student who had returned from China-- that was detected in Trichur district.
A robust ‘Disha’ telephone helpline which handled more than one lakh calls, training for a total of 8.5 lakh people from all sectors, including the police, and 24x7 telephonic psychological counselling by more than 2,000 counsellors were part of the preparedness, he said.
Effective contact tracing using innovative route maps, the wholehearted participation of the field public health staff and volunteers was very effective in handling the crisis.
Two days before the national lockdown on March 24, Kerala had its own statewide curfew when food and rations was delivered for the elderly who were living alone
The state also had effective home quarantine where only one person was allowed to stay at home and he was given moral support by the neighbours.
We call our migrant labourers ‘Guest Workers’
Dr Fettle said that Kerala calls its migrant labourers as ‘Guest Workers’ and not as ‘people from other states’ or ‘aliens’. “We have guest worker colonies and employment camps where they live and our guidelines and communication was translated into five-six languages such as Oriya, Bengali, Tamil and Telgu. Our language experts created these spoken and written guidelines which was available on social media and they also communicated with them.” They were provided with food and payment for loss of labour, he said.