Thiruvananthapuram: During this week when Keralites celebrate Vishu, the first day of the astronomical year with prayers for good health and prosperity, a viral video by two medical students of the Government Medical College, Thrissur has turned the spotlight on two aspects of Kerala: Its remarkable achievements on the health front, and a creeping rise in religious hatred.
The two students featured in the dance number, Naveen K Razaq and Janaki M Omkumar, are part of the dance group in their college. The duo may hardly have imagined their video going viral, but it has helped highlight Kerala’s stature in public health as well as the need to nip hatred in the bud.
Well above India average
On practically every aspect on the health index, Kerala towers over the India average. In maternal mortality, India has a rate of 113 female deaths for every 100,000 live births while it is only 43 in Kerala. And on infant mortality, Kerala’s death of only 7 infants per 1,000 births is far superior to the Indian average of 32 deaths.
Kerala also stands apart in India in the matter of professional medical attention at the time of delivery. Across India, 7.8 per cent of births happen without the presence of a qualified medical professional while it is only 0.1 per cent in Kerala. In other words, 99.9 per cent of deliveries in Kerala happen in the presence of qualified medical professionals.
Not an overnight feat
Historian and social scientist Dr P.K. Michael Tharakan says Kerala’s health stature in modern times is owed to several factors including the early success that the region of Kerala had in countering epidemics, right from the time of its monarchs, particularly in southern Kerala.
“There was also a demand from the people for investment in this area,” says Tharakan. He feels another major factor is the role played by socio-religious leaders like Sree Narayana Guru, Chattambi Swamikal, Vakkom Moulavi, Nidheerikkal Mani Kathanar and Ayyankali whose focus on education and social uplift of the people rubbed off on the health sector as well.
Stark COVID-19 stats
Kerala’s ability to tackle epidemics was proved recently when it managed to contain an outbreak of the dreaded Nipah virus in 2018, and it is currently demonstrating how to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 related deaths in Kerala are far fewer than in many other Indian states, even when taken as a proportion of their total populations. Maharashtra, for example, has lost nearly 58,000 lives to the pandemic and Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have lost nearly 13,000 lives each. Kerala, in contrast has lost only about 4,800 lives as of this week.
Kerala’s COVID-19 deaths compare even more favourably with the numbers of the United States. The US has a population roughly ten times that of Kerala, but it has lost a whopping 570,000 lives in the pandemic.
Focus on hatred
Like in the rest of India in recent years, Kerala too has been witnessing a rise in religious hatred, visible mostly in social media posts.
In that context, it was no surprise that the medical students’ video attracted some adverse comments, pointing out that the male dancer was Muslim. But those comments only prompted Keralites in large numbers to pledge their support to the medical students, taking the video’s views to a whopping 9 million.
“Something to be proud about. Nine million views to reject and defeat the disease of the times,” one of Kerala’s tourism pioneers Jose Dominic told Gulf News about the hate attack on the video and the refreshing response of Keralites to it.
Kerala’s strengths in the health sector have long been acknowledged globally, primarily through the thousands of medical professionals from the state employed around the world, from Germany and the US to the UK and Australia.
Last week, Italy honoured a Kerala nun, Sr Teresa Vettath, for her outstanding service during the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic last year, by naming a road in Rome after her.