Kerala's status of having one of the best healthcare systems in India has received a severe blow in the past one year due to the outbreak of chikungunya viral fever in the state.
Last year, more than 100 people died during the outbreak of the mosquito-borne viral fever in the coastal districts of Alappuzha, Kollam and Ernakulam.
The present outbreak, which has seen more than 40 people die in the past two weeks in the south and central districts of Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Kottayam and parts of the capital city has raised questions about how good Kerala's healthcare system really is.
According to sources, more than 100,000 people are down with fever in the south and central districts of the state and the disease is now spreading to the northern districts as well.
Public health expert and chairman of Health Action by People, an NGO, C.R.Soman told IANS that the present crisis occurred because Kerala was living on past glory of excellent public health status.
"It was in 1930 that the country's first primary health care centre started functioning in Kerala's Neyattinkara area and due to concerted efforts at all levels, Malaria was eradicated by 1970 from the state. We failed to carry on with the good work and hence the present situation is so bad," Soman said Monday.
Ironically, Kerala's health indicators are often said to be at par with those of developed countries. The state has the lowest infant mortality rate of 14.1 per cent as against an all-India average of 70.5. The birth rate for Kerala is 15 per cent while for the rest of the country it is 23.8. Similarly, the death rate is 6.4 as against 7.60 for the country. With regards to life expectancy also Kerala leads the rest of the country with 70.9 for males and 76 for women as against 61.8 and 63.5 respectively in the country.
In order to tackle the chikungunya outbreak, for the first time in recent history, the state government requested the Centre to deploy armed forces in the state and the army responded positively.
"The need of the hour is not the Indian Army. People must start practicing cleanliness and make better sanitation efforts at the earliest," said Soman.
He put part of the blame for the present crisis situation in the state on the excessive media coverage of the issue.
Soman said with the media reporting almost every fever case and overplaying the issue, the doctors are on tenterhooks and are admitting every patient who comes with fever whereas a few years back most of these patients would have been treated as out patients.
"In these hospitals, those affected with dengue and chikungunya have to be isolated because if the aedes mosquito bites an affected person, it can carry the disease to others in the hospital. Government hospitals do not have the infrastructure to isolate these patients," a doctor said on condition of anonymity.
Soman said authorities should take the help of epidemiologists and entomologists to conduct studies to ensure that vector control measures are taken within the next three to four years to prevent any more epidemic.