In May 2018, the viral outbreak of Nipah virus was reported from Kerala’s Kozhikode district. By June 1, there were 17 deaths, and 18 confirmed cases from Kerala’s Kozhikode and Malappuram districts. This created nationwide panic as well. But Kerala overcame this dangerous phase with a stride.
The Institute of Human Virology (IHV), U.S.A, decided to felicitate Government of Kerala for its swift action against the fatal viral outbreak. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Health Minister K.K.Shilaja were invited to the US for this award ceremony. Dr Robert C Gallo, co-founder of the institute and the famous virologist, who co-discovered HIV and developed the Elisa test kit, presented a memento to CM Vijayan at a function held at the IHV campus. There was a discussion between the CM, Dr Roberto Gallo and senior scientists on setting up a virology institute in Kerala. It was for the first time in the history of our nation that an Indian CM was honoured by the Baltimore IHV institute.
The Nipah virus is a newly emerging zoonosis that causes severe infection in both animals and humans. The natural host of the virus is fruit bats of the Pteropodidae Family, Pteropus genus. NiV infection in humans has a range of clinical repercussions, from asymptomatic infection to an acute respiratory syndrome and fatal encephalitis. NiV is also capable of causing diseases in pigs and other domestic animals. There is no vaccine for either humans or animals.
Nipah Virus was first identified during an outbreak in Kampung Sungai Nipah, Malaysia in 1998. In Bangladesh in 2004, residents became infected with NiV as a result of consuming date palm sap that had been contaminated by infected fruit bats. Human-to-human transmission has also been documented, including in a hospital setting in India. The first outbreak of this deadly virus in India was reported way back in 2001, in Siliguri district of West Bengal.
Under the 2005 International Health Regulations of WHO, India is obligated to report to the organisation about any public health risk related to the outbreak of diseases. Following steps were taken by the state government:
According to the Health Minister of Kerala, K.K. Shailaja Teacher, special control rooms are being set up in Kozhikode as a preparation for a possible second outbreak. Vulnerable people who may have been exposed to individuals affected by the virus are being put under watch. If they show any symptoms of the virus, they’ll be treated immediately.
India has a poor record of outbreak investigations. Since 1978, about 10,000 deaths have been recorded in UP due to encephalitis. In 2018, till the month of June, UP’s BRD medical college has witnessed 681 deaths of infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) among which 79 were cases of encephalitis. On the other hand, detecting the viral outbreak in the very second case of Kozhikode district was something new and fast. Lini Puthussery, a 28-year-old nurse, succumbed to death while treating patients infected with Nipah virus. In her last message to her husband, she wrote- “I don’t think I will be able to see you again. Sorry. Please raise our children well.” This incident speaks volumes about the courage, commitment and dedication of healthcare officials in Kerala. The health officials and doctors were honoured by the Health Minister for putting up a strong fight against a deadly viral outbreak.
Even the 2018 report of Niti Aayog clearly mentioned Kerala as the best state in terms of healthcare. In 2017, Kerala became the first state in India to provide free healthcare insurance to 31 lakh migrant workers who had come to Kerala to earn their livelihood.
Aiming at a new health policy, the government is determined to reduce the expenditure of people on healthcare. They want to make it more affordable, curbing unnecessary laboratory tests and clinical procedures by having standard treatment guidelines (which would require convincing all medical professionals as well). These steps are possible only when the state invests in the infrastructure of public healthcare by providing quality treatment which is affordable for everyone. I feel that a government’s willpower and dedication can combat any deadly outbreak. In this aspect, pro-people politics and policies of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government of Kerala have set an example for all states of India including the Government of India.