All of India’s three positive novel coronavirus (nCoV) cases have been reported from Kerala and efforts of the state’s Health Department and its public health system have received widespread attention. However, the question that arises is: Why are all the positive cases so far been reported from the same state?
Since the virus outbreak had been reported in China, Kerala had started collecting data along with medical samples of those returning from China. Kerala’s efforts started even before the travel ban was imposed. Here, it is important to note that the students who had been tested positive are all among those who had returned before the travel ban.
International passengers who had landed in the state have been given health cards which contain their travel details and health condition. “This card is screened at the first entry point by the health desk and the passenger has to get a clearance seal in order to proceed to immigration. If the passenger is from China or Hong Kong or any other infected region, they are shifted to a transit room where their body temperature is immediately measured,” said Dr. Amar Fettle, state nodal officer (public emergency), who is currently in-charge of the anti-nCoV task force in the state.
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Since the state has meticulously been collecting samples and sending those to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune, positive cases have been detected much earlier. As per the latest update on Monday evening, people have returned to Kerala from foreign countries including China. Of these, 2,155 who do not have any symptoms are under home quarantine and 84 people have been kept in isolation across the state.
The key step to control the spread of the epidemic is to track down the people who had come from the affected regions, said state health Minister K K Shailaja.
“Our surveillance system has been fine-tuned with experience gathered from such threats faced in the past. Since we could track down all the people travelling from the infected regions we could easily identify those who have the slightest symptoms,” she said.
At the time of Nipah outbreak in 2018 and 2019, the state integrated officials at various levels for a smoother functioning of the system. The coordination of volunteers was also crucial at that time. The same system is being implemented this time around too.
Though the situation is under complete control and the condition of those infected are stable, the health department has sought the help of the Indian Medical Association.
“At present, the patient load at isolation facilities is manageable. But as a precaution, the department has sought the help of the Indian Medical Association to persuade private hospitals to set up isolation ward facilities if needed,” said Shailaja.
The state’s systematic efforts and surveillance programs have received national recognition as well. Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan directed other states and Union Territories to implement the strategies that have been adopted by Kerala to curtail nCoV.
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There is a connection between Wuhan and Kerala as all three of India’s positive novel coronavirus cases so far are students of a university in the historic Chinese city, which is the epicentre of the epidemic.
Wuhan has been a popular destination for Keralites and others as an educational hub with quality and affordable medical courses attracting overseas scholars. Impressed by factors like affordability, amenities and international standards in medical education, offered in English, students from Kerala have been flocking to Wuhan University School of Medicine in China.
Wuhan, over 1,000 km from Chinese capital of Beijing and over 800 km away from the top class metropolis Shanghai, is a historic city which has played a key role in the 20th century history of China.
"I am very happy about the medical education system at Wuhan university. They offer quality education at an affordable rate," a student who had returned from Wuhan, said on Tuesday.
Aiswarya Hariharan, a third year MBBS student, returned to India in early January soon after the school was shut for vacation. According to her, the Wuhan University School of Medicine has become a centre of attraction for MBBS aspirants from Kerala because of its international standard. The six-year-long education at the university is helpful since classes are in English for the overseas students. "In our batch, there are about 70 international students. Interestingly, 50 of them are from Kerala," said Aiswarya, who hails from Tripunithura.
The parent of another MBBS student studying in Wuhan said he sent his daughter to Wuhan because of the high standard of education with affordable fees. "I spent Rs 5 to 6 lakh for fees, accommodation and food for my daughter on an annual basis. The fee amount is very less when compared to many of the self-financing medical institutes in India. Besides, studying overseas is beneficial for the students as they get international exposure," the parent added.
The students said that close to 500 students from Kerala are pursuing their MBBS at Wuhan University School of Medicine. They expressed confidence that the Asian giant would overcome the crisis due to outbreak of novel Coronavirus very soon and they would be able to continue their education there. According to students, though there are about 35 medical colleges in Kerala, not all of them could aspire to get admissions to them.
Educational consultant, Jacob George, who is the General Manager of the Asian Educational Consultancy, however, felt the number of students who go to China for MBBS were minimal as several others preferred countries like Russia. Of the three students who tested positive for coronavirus in Kerala, two are medicos from Wuhan, the epicentre of the deadly epidemic which has claimed close to 500 lives in China so far.
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(With inputs from PTI)