Health Minister KK Shailaja is on a roll. The minister has graced the November cover of fashion magazine Vogue, been praised as ‘India’s COVID-19 teacher’ in the international journal Science, honoured by the United Nations for her effective management of the Covid-19 pandemic and made it to the list of 50 top thinkers in the world in British magazine Prospect, topping the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Arden.
Shailaja has recently been included in the British daily Financial Times’ (FT) list of the world’s most influential women in 2020. She is one among the 12 that FT has selected from a list of nominations sent by their readers. The readers selected Shailaja as one of the most influential women in the world, along with Kamala Harris, Angela Merkel, Jacinda Arden and Stacey Ambros.
One of the two female ministers in the Pinarayi Vijayan cabinet, Shailaja, hails from Kannur. Popularly known as Shailaja teacher, she had served as a high school teacher at Shivapuram, where she taught physics and biology. She turned to full-time political action in 2004. A CPI (M) Central Committee Member and the State Secretary of Janadhi, she represented Kuthuparamba in 1996 and Peravoor in 2006 in the Kerala Legislative Assembly. In an interview with Manju Sara Rajan for Vogue, Shailaja says that her first memory of politics is “holding my grandmother’s hand at a political meeting. I didn’t know what was going on, but that atmosphere stayed with me.”
As Health Minister, Shailaja’s leadership during the Nipah and Covid-19 outbreaks was widely lauded.
During the Nipah outbreak, Shailaja managed to contain the situation by isolating patients and tracing and quarantining more than 200 contacts. The film, Virus, which was based on the Nipah virus outbreak in the state, saw actor Revathi portraying Shailaja in the film.
During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, The Guardian had dubbed her as a ‘Coronavirus slayer’ and a ‘rock star health minister’. The United Nations invited her to participate in a panel discussion for her efforts to fight Covid-19. In the same interview with Manju, Shailaja said, “Kerala was criticized for overreacting, but we knew it was very infectious. We don’t have the resources to manage a large number of patients, so we had to make sure numbers were low.”