Health minister K K Shylaja is a no-nonsense politician. She is not of the common opportunistic variety keen on giving a triumphant spin to routine decisions. When Onmanorama told her, considering how certain countries have always been uncertain and secretive about major disease outbreaks, that it was bold to tell the public about Nipah, the minister brushed it aside as nothing extraordinary.
The near miraculous manner in which the spread of Nipah was contained, for K K Shylaja, is just a job well done, nothing much to croon about. And then, the self-effacing manner in which she moved out of the picture to let the doctors corner all the glory, and rightly so, showed the stuff with which she is made of.
The minister has her hands full, and she has neither the time nor the inclination to blow her own trumpet. Here is the little that we managed by way of an interview.
The decision to declare the name, Nipah, quite early on was historic. What was the motive behind the government in taking such a bold initiative?
This is how it should be, and there was no alternative. Though the doctors at Manipal Centre for Virus Research (MCVR) confirmed our worst fears, we just waited for confirmation from National Institute of Virology (Pune) to go public.
The source of the outbreak is still being probed. Though it is assumed that the virus was contracted through bats, we are yet to find out how the first person contracted the disease. Will that affect the vigil that we observe now?
A multidisciplinary team has been constituted to do an ethnographic research to understand the source of the virus attack. Simultaneously, we have also strictly enforced protocols that were already there except that they were not followed. For instance, the stipulation that doctors should wear masks and gloves is almost as old as modern medicine but were mostly ignored. People have nothing to worry.
Do the affected areas still have the chances of another outbreak? What are the precautions taken to avoid another outbreak? Do we have a disease control policy in state? How equipped is our system to tackle the epidemics?
I am not sure about another outbreak. The precautions are being taken, and it will be an ongoing process. As to whether we are equipped to tackle epidemics of this scale, we just showed what we can.
Isn't it significant that it was only at Baby Memorial Hospital, a private hospital, that the transmission of the virus did not take place? But the patients who reached Kozhikode Medical College, and Perambra and Balussery taluk hospitals infected many, including a bystander.
At the Baby Memorial Hospital, the patient was taken straight to the ICU, unlike in Kozhikode or Perambra or Balussery, where patients were moved from one unit to the other for tests and sundry examinations. But given that government hospitals are places where the poor throng, there will always be a bit of chaos.