Projects like ‘Snehasparsham’, where the society would collectively pool in money to sponsor dialysis for kidney patients from financially poor background is unique in nature. We even planned for a universal health insurance scheme for the entire ‘below poverty line’ population in the district on the same model where the premium would be sponsored by those who could afford it.
The project, however, was shelved since the state government issued orders along this line to implement universal health coverage across the state. It never took off. However, I’m confident that had we gone ahead, Kozhikode would have been the first district in India to have done that successfully. Kozhikode, anyway, has so many firsts in its name.
What is the factor that clicks in Kozhikode? What brings them the sense of togetherness? It's not to be forgotten that we have had fair share of tension and violence in our society, many of which wouldn't have happened had we placed ourselves in the shoes of the other person. A compassionate approach is not surprisingly a path to better quality of life as well.
I am convinced that Kerala is mature enough to engage in an effort to try and create such a society and that the lead can be from Kozhikode. Initiatives like palliative care found its beginnings in this district, again a project that harps on compassion and empathy.
Kozhikode has that spark of humanity which is very difficult to describe.
Students in Palliative Care (SIPC) is often the breeding ground for the Compassionate Kozhikode (CK) volunteers. Community driven and owned projects like ‘Operation Sulaimani’ run on goodwill, mutual trust and compassion to your brethren.
There is a soul to the place that is much more than what has been understood. Perhaps something similar to the spirit of Mumbai about which much has been written about.
Kozhikode has that spark of humanity which is very difficult to describe. In Kerala, we have heard generalisations of ‘goodness’ of the people of Kozhikode, an argument that is buttressed with anecdotes about the good Samaritan auto-drivers! The drivers are known for their honesty and hospitality. They are famously known to advise you as a passenger to take a public bus because it would cost one-tenth the price and the frequency is better. Many crudely contrast the Kozhikoden autodriver with one in Thiruvananthapuram who would take so many circles to extend the trip and gain undue money that we end up seeing five to six secretariats in the process!
The soul of Kozhikode is something much more than mere goodness. In my experience as the District Collector, this place seems to have taught me much more than mere goodness. It is to do more with love, brotherhood and compassion. It's about the culture of sharing; sharing for the betterment of people and places.
Hero of Perambra: The Nurse Who Gave Her Life to Care for Nipah Victims.
A plethora of initiatives were launched by the district administration in partnership with civil society, government agencies and citizens, who volunteer to create an authentic and inspirational destination for them to live and invite people to visit and be part of their lives and experiences. I realised that we can only be facilitators and to some extent be the matchmakers, helping people to do good.
Being there for the other person, we believe, is an inherent quality or feeling within ourselves. It's standing together for the others that brings out the best in us. The collective consciousness of a place is as important as our own individual consciousness. Kozhikode over the years has captured the imagination of the public when it comes to its warmth and hospitality.
The doctors of Kozhikode can be proud that the very second case was rightly diagnosed as Nipah infection. Apart from the symptoms, the death of a close contact with similar symptoms less than two weeks ago was the only clue in this case. Nipah was tested for and confirmed promptly. Following this, containment action swung in with reasonably good results. We should also remember that the state of Kerala previously didn’t face any similar health hazard with high mortality rates like in Nipah and the robust response at such a short notice was no mean task.
During the course of containing Nipah, there was mild criticism from within the medical community that Ebola protocol was not fully enforced by the administration whereas it should have been. The unintentional and inevitable shifting of the epicentre of Nipah from Perambra to Medical College Hospital, the initial difficulties and delays in setting up isolation wards, lack of information flow within the medical community and caregivers with regard to the patient contacted persons, broken down incinerators, shortage of supplies, including non-permeable PPE were all irritants which would have overwhelmed any other team. Not Team Kozhikode.
The fact that Dr Saritha, Director of Health Services, led the team from the front made a huge difference. She was the District Medical Officer of Kozhikode during my tenure and I have witnessed her dynamic involvement facilitating rapid changes in the Mental Health Centre at Kuthiravattom.
In the wake of Nipah, despite the resource crunch and other limitations, including hospital itself turning into an infecting ground, the team did not lose heart. Nor did they waste time sobbing over the fact that we could not limit the infection to Perambra. The inevitable was accepted and what next was the question.
The people of Kozhikode responded marvellously and did not complain or waste time in taking steps to prevent the spread of the disease. Though most media outlets carried news that there was panic and that the streets were abandoned, I would like to see it as abundant caution and a smart move whereby crowded settings were avoided voluntarily by the citizens.
When we really don’t have 100% control or information about the carriers or contacted persons, it would be foolhardy to encourage people to assume normalcy. After the period of caution and ‘quarantine’ is over, I am sure that Kozhikode would be back to normal with all its vibrancy. We need not underestimate the judgment or capacity of the people of Kozhikode and make sweeping statements that the people got scared and were holed up in their houses. That’s a smart move if you can afford to do it.
The people of Kozhikode collectively achieved what perhaps a strict Ebola protocol implementation could have achieved in Perambra. The people of Kozhikode whom I know, do not panic so easily. But they respond to any crisis in the most effective and decisive manner with a lot of heart in it.
(The author is a former district collector of Kozhikode. Views are personal.)