A year when state’s health sector was severely tested, and survived

The occurrence of these diseases is a wake-up call even for high-income countries, not just Kerala. 
Image used for representational purposes (Express Illustration)
Image used for representational purposes (Express Illustration)

KOCHI: For Kerala’s health sector, 2023 was a challenging year, troubled as it was by the re-emergence of several infectious diseases, including Nipah and Zika, and by a new Covid-19 variant -- JN.1. However, better testing and treatment facilities and ever-alert health workers ensured that the state handled these emergencies — and continue to do so — in an efficient manner, said experts.

The situation in the state is a reflection of the global health system and the challenges it faced this year also affected other countries, said Dr Dipu T S, associate professor with the Department of infectious diseases at Amrita Hospital. “The occurrence of these diseases is a wake-up call even for high-income countries, not just Kerala,” he said. 

According to Health Minister Veena George, the government, health department, and communities effectively handled the emergencies. “Several projects were implemented as part of the Navakeralam Karma Padhathi — focusing on infrastructure development, prevention and treatment,” the minister told TNIE.

“It is notable that we were able to diagnose the presence of Nipah and Zika. Early detection of these viruses helped us prevent their spread. It shows our epidemic intelligence, which allows us to detect the presence of infection at the earliest, even before an outbreak,” Veena said. 

She emphasised that the state succeeded in preventing the spread of these diseases. “Talking specifically about Nipah, we curtailed the number of cases to single digits. Moreover, the survival of a nine-year-old, who was on a ventilator for several days, is an achievement of the health system,” she said, stressing that the department is now working to prevent a dengue outbreak in the state.

Surveillance and early detection are important, said Dr Dipu. “Knowledge, surveillance and early diagnosis or detection are important in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. Cases were first reported in Kerala, which shows the state is capable of suspecting their presence, besides surveillance and detection,” he added.

There is now more focus than ever on improving the health system, indicated the minister. “We also need to accord special attention to lifestyle and rare diseases. We aim to take a holistic approach,” she said. 
The increase in detection of viruses is an indication of better surveillance. 

“We often view increasing numbers negatively. But it also means that we are cautious about these diseases, and are taking active measures. The occurrence of diseases such as Nipah is not the issue. Once diagnosed, we need to stop the spread. It depends on the efficiency of the state or country. Our health system handled the matter efficiently,” Dr Dipu said.

Incidence of infectious diseases also reminds us of the importance of one health. “Kerala has a good system of surveillance. Now, we need to focus on one health and should study the interaction between animals, wildlife, and humans to allow us to find what causes the occurrence of these diseases,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, former chief scientist with the World Health Organization. “We need to study human-animal interactions and the disruptions to stop the occurrence of infectious diseases,” Dr Dipu added.

On alert

  • State witnessed the re-emergence of several infectious diseases
  • Better testing and treatment facilities and ever-alert health workers ensured that the state handled these emergencies
  • Knowledge, surveillance and early diagnosis proved crucial

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