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India: Women In Kerala Are Leading The Battle Against COVID-19

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India’s Kerala state has emerged as one of the success stories when it comes to fighting the pandemic. Thus far there have been only 4 deaths. One of the key reasons is the role of women health workers.

Many women in Kerala serving as nurses and doctors have not seen their families for months as they remain on the frontiers of the battle of resistance against COVID-19. Their efforts have been acknowledged recognition worldwide. For instance, The London based Guardian newspaper called Kerala Health Minister K.K. Shailaja the “coronavirus slayer”. The director of medical education Dr Remla Beevi told India’s Week Magazine: “What we are seeing is the display of woman power in its best form.” Beevi is one of the many women leaders in the health sector of Kerala. She leads the Covid Cell tasked with the monitoring of activities in Kerala’s nine government medical colleges. The Covid Cell is dominated by women and has only male member.

“We have rarely seen women playing such a major role in protecting a state anywhere in the world. It is something unprecedented and unique,” says nodal officer for COVID-19 Dr A.K. Jayasree.

Kerala has higher proportion of women in health services in contrast to men and their education has given additional advantage to the state in handling the crisis in an effective manner. They have been instrumental in keeping the death toll at just four, despite the fact that the state is highly prone to the virus spread because of the higher population of old people (above 65) and the high population density.

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In addition to the health minister, both the director of health services and the director of medical education are women. Out of 14 district medical officers (DMOs) in the state, 11 are women. The Week Magazine reports: “Female doctors in the state health services outnumber the men (65:35) and this has been the trend for nearly two decades. Similarly, the number of female medical students in the state is more than double the number of male students. When it comes to nurses and paramedics, there is total domination by women. All of them have joined hands in the fight against Covid-19.”

The women doctors and paramedics, especially the field workers, have been vigilant even though they have been facing several hurdles. But the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has backed their work and supported the “women brigade” as some call it in the South Indian state.

The public health focused organisations have a unique story as the state government has been effectively using them for surveillance. Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) comprises 26,000 women workers who have been working 24/7 to ensure lockdown and quarantine measures are followed by public.

There are several examples depicting how women empowerment is conducive and productive for a society evident from the courage with which these foot soldiers embraced the workload.

The manner in which Kerala nurses and health servants put aside their motherly responsibilities like breast feeding and rather went out into the field to ease the pain of the coronavirus affectees is exemplary.

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