Credited and renowned all over the world, for her effective strategy to deal with COVID-19 in Kerala, state Health Minister, K.K. Shailaja is already leading the way for other world leaders.
Her exceptional work in handling the pandemic was recognised by the United Nations. She has now been featured on the cover of a leading magazine and is one among the women in power being lauded for their response to the crisis.
The 63-year-old politician was born and brought up in Kerala. She attained a degree in Bachelor of Science from Pazhassi Raja N.S.S. College, Mattanur and later did Bachelor of Education from Visvesvarayya College.
On completing her graduation, she served as a high school science teacher for 7 years, after which she took voluntary retirement to concentrate on politics.
That’s why she is still fondly called ‘Teacher’ by many.
Shailaja entered the Kerala state politics through the Students Federation of India (SFI) and later became a member of CPI(M) Central Committee.
She first contested for the Kerala Legislative Assembly elections in 1996 and won. After quitting her career as a school teacher in 2004, she again won the state elections of 2006.
It was in 2016 that she was given the Health and Social Welfare portfolio in the state cabinet headed by Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan.
Her management of the Nipah outbreak of 2018 shot her to international fame. With her scientific and swift response, the outbreak was contained with the lowest death toll recorded so far in the history of the virus across the world.
The outbreak of a deadly virus that was never heard of in Kerala, made Shailaja anxious, but not scared. Talking to The Federal, she once said:
But there was no option. We had to fight it.
Known for her scientific temper and decentralised approach, Shailaja herself went to the villages that were the epicentres of Nipah and talked to the villagers who were scared.
This experience of dealing with the Nipah virus helped her flatten the COVID-19 curve in Kerala in the initial stages, this year. And she has been winning accolades for her work throughout the pandemic.
In May 2020, while other states were struggling to manage the pandemic, Kerala was way ahead, flattening the curve. From quick action to fearlessness, KK Shailaja was rightly credited for her work.
In an interview with the Business Line, the former teacher shed light on the combined efforts of her team in tackling the coronavirus in Kerala.
When you sense that a danger is looming close, the most important thing to do is to learn about, and educate ourselves on ways to be prepared for it. When we heard of the Wuhan outbreak, we figured that it can reach Kerala too, due to its rapid human-to-human transfer nature. There are people from Kerala studying there, as well as people involved in business.
Last month, while talking to the Indian Express, Shailaja revealed that she has met her family only once ever since the pandemic hit the state.
Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja Teacher visited her family for the first time in three months. The last time Minister visited her house in Pazhassi was on February 18th 2020.— Advaid അദ്വൈത് (@Advaidism) May 18, 2020
Photo with her granddaughter & Family.https://t.co/oFZYOU64dS pic.twitter.com/RsNgOCTTsm
In the same interview, she talked about how video calls with her family, including her 2-year-old granddaughter, helps her relieve all the stress after a busy day at work, during the pandemic.
My grand-daughter shows me her drawings on video calls. Talking to her helps me manage my stress. I talk about household matters with my husband. I also speak to my elder son who lives in Abu Dhabi with his wife and three-year- old son.
In August, when an Air India flight from UAE to Kozhikode crashed on the runway, killing 20 people, Shailaja visited the site immediately. With the pandemic at its peak, she had to self-quarantine for two weeks upon her return. In conversation with Vogue, she said:
There’s no time to be scared. More than fear, I feel an enthusiasm to get involved.
Her exceptional leadership skills have made her everyone’s favourite minister in Kerala and an inspiration around the world.
More power to her.