There are signs of disease outbreaks, but government is effectively dealing with the problem, Shailaja says
Thiruvananthapuram: K.K. Shailaja, Kerala’s Minister of Health and Social Justice, and the sitting lawmaker from the Kuthuparamba assembly constituency in Kannur district, has been tirelessly doing the rounds of relief camps in the state in the wake of the devastating floods in the state.
With flood waters receding, the damage is apparently extensive. Shailaja, considered a no-nonsense politician, is particular that no flood-affected area of the state should have to deal with a shortage of doctors. Having roped in the private healthcare sector, she has been monitoring the health situation in relief camps and seeing to it that healthcare facilities reach farflung affected areas through boats.
Even as Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has pressed the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to accept the aid offered by the United Arab Emirates government for flood relief, Shailaja stressed that since Indians, especially Keralites, have contributed immensely in the UAE’s nation-building efforts, UAE’s offer ought to be accepted with grace.
As fears about the spread of diseases and infections in relief camps loom large, the minister has her hands full. Nevertheless, she made time to speak to Gulf News in a telephonic interview:
GULF NEWS: The Central government’s refusal to accept aid from UAE is being seen as ‘misplaced pride’, as aiding people in distress should have no barriers. What is your take?
K.K. SHAILAJA: The government should have a rethink. Kerala has suffered damages worth billions and it is a huge disaster. Surely, the government should accept UAE’s assistance dedicated to the state’s reconstruction. Not just the UAE, aid from other countries should also be welcomed. This will help lessen the sufferings of thousands of people, especially many of those who have lost most of their possessions. We hope a solution is found to expedite this issue.
After floods, the biggest challenge is to stop outbreak of epidemics in 14 districts of the state. How equipped is the system to tackle the epidemics?
While we were facing the fury of floods and working on relief activities, we were already preparing for another mission — that of grappling with epidemics once the water receded. A masterplan was prepared to tackle the spread of water-borne diseases at the districts and state level. The health department opened the state-level control room that functions round-the-clock. In addition, we are running a fever clinic and have a surveillance system with 36 control rooms where waterborne disease outbreak can be reported. We are dealing with skin diseases and fever in the relief camps. These are signs of disease outbreaks. So, doctors from not just Kerala, but also neighbouring states are assisting in huge numbers. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and other states are supplying medicines in bulk and I am monitoring the situation on a daily basis.
Which particular disease is your main worry?
There is not one. Since relief camps are cramped with flood victims, due to close proximity, chances of contracting skin diseases are extremely high. Some camps have reported few cases of chicken pox, which is highly contagious. Respiratory problems are also a cause of worry. Both, the magnitude of disaster and assistance required thereafter, have been beyond our imagination.
During your surprise visits, you have found hospitals in unhygienic conditions. How are you taking stock of the situation where the hospital staff is taking things for granted?
A number of hospitals have been submerged in water for days. And understandably, we cannot expect hospitals to suddenly start working normally. Hygiene is a priority and and, along with NGOs, things are being taken care of.
With doctors, nurses and supply of medicines being topmost priority, how is your government managing to meet the shortfall?
The hospitals have deployed doctors, nurses, and paramedical staff, including volunteers, who have all been involved in the efforts to provide adequate healthcare to the affected. To ensure no flood-affected area of the state has a shortage of doctors, we have roped in Ayurveda and homeopathy doctors, who can help in case of an emergency. Initially, we had bought medicines worth Rs5 million [Dh262,230]. Now, not only various states, but also some pharmaceutical companies have come forward with supplies to provide succour.
Numerous people have lost their identity cards like Aadhaar, driving licence, voter ID. How will the government provide relief measures under state-run schemes?
In wake of the prevailing situation, all these are secondary issues. It is tragic that lives of many people were lost, but at the same time thousands of lives have been saved. And that is important. As Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said, people need not worry about ID cards or educational certificates; we shall provide all these later. It is a time-consuming process, so once people are able to go back to their homes, surveys will be conducted and the concerned departments will be briefed to provide ID cards and duplicate certificates.
• K.K. Shailaja was born on November 20, 1956 to mother K.K. Santha and father K. Kundan in Kannur district of Kerala.
• She was chief editor of Sthree Sabdam magazine.
• Served as a science teacher in Sivapuram High School, Kannur,
• Entered politics through Students Federation of India activities.
• Became a member of Communist Party of India (Marxist) Central Committee.
• She is State Secretary of the All India Democratic Association.
• A three-time member of the state legislative assembly, she represented Kuthuparamba in Kannur district, Kerala (1996), Peravur in Nagapattina district, Tamil Nadu (2006) before being elected again from Kuthuparamba (2016).
• She is one of the two women ministers in the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s cabinet.
Alphons urges rethink by federal government
Following the Indian government’s refusal to accept financial assistance from foreign governments for flood relief in Kerala, federal minister of state for tourism K.J. Alphons has appealed to his own government for a “one-time exception” to a 14-year policy that bars using foreign funds for rehabilitation of victims of natural calamities.
While the federal government is being implored to either accept the UAE offer of aid or compensate the state by that amount, Alphons, who hails from Kerala, hopes the policy is changed. “My stand is very clear. Kerala needs billions of dollars for reconstruction,” he said. The state is left with two possibilities, he added, with either Indians contributing huge amounts generously and not just their old clothes, or Kerala taking funds from abroad.