The patient, a Dalit man, self-quarantined in a makeshift shed next to his house, which was earlier used as a cattle shed. The Kizhakkambalam gram panchayat set up a COVID-19 care centre only after his death on May 10.

Patient died of COVID-19 transported in ambulanceImage for representation
Coronavirus COVID-19 Friday, May 14, 2021 - 17:22

The death of a COVID-19 patient in Kerala’s corporate-run panchayat — the Kizhakkambalam gram panchayat — has raised questions about the local body’s COVID-19 management. It has surfaced that the patient, MN Sasi, a Dalit man and resident of Ambunadu in Kizhakkambalam, stayed in a makeshift shed, next to his house, after he tested positive for the COVID-19 virus on April 26. At the time, neither the ASHA worker knew that the person in her ward was diagnosed with COVID-19 nor the family was aware that they could seek help from panchayat officials. Sasi was later shifted to a COVID-19 care centre outside the panchayat limits, and then to a hospital when he developed pneumonia. But, he succumbed to COVID-19 on May 10, Monday.

Sasi’s death, however, has revealed COVID-19 mismanagement in the panchayat. According to the allegations raised by residents, until recently, the Kizhakkambalam local body did not have a domiciliary care centre (DCC), which is meant to quarantine COVID-19 patients who do not have quarantine facilities at home. According to the allegations, the panchayat officials started the DCC on May 12 (Wednesday), after the death of the patient. According to the direction of the state government, all local bodies should have domiciliary care centres and COVID-19 first-line treatment centres (FLTCs). Kizhakkambalam gram panchayat is run by Kizhakkambalam Twenty 20, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) wing of Anna-Kitex companies.

According to the residents in the region, when Sasi was diagnosed with COVID-19, he shifted to the shed, which was earlier a cattle shed. “He shifted so that his family members won’t get the infection. But after a few days, his condition deteriorated and was shifted to a hospital, where he succumbed,” said a resident in the region.

Speaking to TNM, local body officials acknowledged that the man quarantined in a makeshift shed before being shifted to hospital. However, the panchayat officials also claimed that his family members neither contacted the panchayat president or ward members in the regions to seek any help nor inform them that he tested positive for the virus.

As per the state protocols, when a person tests positive for coronavirus, the health officials give this information to the ward member and the ASHA worker concerned in the region. In this case, the ASHA worker for the deceased person's ward is the Kizhakkambalam panchayat president herself.

“Sasi tested positive for coronavirus on April 26. But, I learnt about this only when the health officials contacted me on April 29. We shifted him to a CFLTC outside the panchayat limits the same day. When his condition worsened, we shifted him to a private hospital, and he succumbed on May 10,” said Kizhakkambalam panchayat president Mini Ratheesh.

On the delay in setting up a domiciliary care centre, the Kizhakkambalam panchayat president cited a shortage of health workers.

Meanwhile, reacting to the death of the COVID-19 patient, Dalit activist Dhanya Raman urged Chief Minister-designate Pinarayi Vijayan to intervene in the issue. “Our issue is not that Kitex Sabu Jacob (the chief of Twenty20 group) continues his autocracy, but that only upon his order that any decision can be taken there. Besides, he left for the US with his family before the second lockdown started. It is unacceptable that the panchayat still does not have a CFLTC,” Dhanya Raman wrote in a Facebook post.

Lapses in COVID-19 management?

“When all other local bodies started domiciliary care centres and CFLTCs, why was only Kizhakkambalam panchayat not able to start it. There are lapses even in the other COVID-19 management measures,” alleged Asma Aliyar, member of the Chelakulam ward. This is the only ward in the Kizhakkambalam panchayat that is under the Congress. The remaining 18 wards were won by the Twenty 20 corporate group in the December 2020 local body election.

She alleged that she has not been getting any assistance from the panchayat to take the patients in her ward to a hospital or in distributing relief assistance. “I’m doing all the work using money from my personal fund. When I ask for any assistance, for example, for distribution of food, panchayat officials say that the Twenty 20 group is handling it and that the local body need not do anything,” she says.

She also added that the panchayat is not even holding any discussions on the COVID-19 management in the panchayat. "They hold online meetings, but there is no space to discuss anything. They come with set agendas. And if I say something, they say Twenty 20 is handling it," Asma added.

There are also allegations that representatives of the four panchayats ruled by Twenty 20 in the Kunnathunad Assembly constituency, did not take part in the recent COVID-19 review meeting held by the Kunnathunad MLA-designate PV Sreenijin.

Denying the allegation, Kizhakkambalam panchayat president Mini said, “I could not take part in the meeting by MLA (designate) as I was occupied with a hospital emergency for another patient in the ward.”

Read: Kizhakkambalam Twenty 20: How a corporate group has entered the Kerala Assembly polls