KK Shailaja, the former Health Minister of Kerala, has been awarded the Central European University (CEU) Open Society Prize for 2021.
The award was announced on Friday at the University’s online graduation day, during which Michael Ignatieff, President and Rector of CEU, appreciated the work of the public health minister of Kerala to reduce the pandemic impact.
“KK Shailaja Teacher demonstrated to the world that determined leadership, community-based public health and effective communication can save lives,” he said.
Ignatieff further said that Shailaja’s example will “inspire young women to enter public service” and emphasised that the decision to award CEU's highest award to “a public servant and female leader for her commitment to public health services” is the bedrock of every open society.
The prestigious Central European University (CEU) Open Society Prize for 2021 has been awarded to former Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja Teacher at a ceremony in Vienna, in recognition of her work in developing public health and handling of the Covid crisis in Kerala.— Advaid അദ്വൈത് (@Advaidism) June 19, 2021
Previous recipients of the CEU Open Society Prize, which was instituted in 1994, was first awarded to philosopher Sir Karl Popper. Other honoraries include economist and Nobel Prize laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz, seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, 2015 Nobel Laureate for Literature Svetlana Alexievich, and President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel, among others.
”It is a pleasure to express my deep gratitude to CEU for conferring the Open Society Prize. I am truly humbled and honoured to be placed alongside the distinguished previous honoraries, all of whom have made important contributions to an open society,” KK Shailaja said in her acceptance speech.
Speaking of the strategy that was decided to battle the pandemic in the state, she said, “We know that it had to be centred on securing the government's commitment and accountability to the people as well as by working in synergy with the civil society”.
Teacher Shailaja also added that teamwork and cohesiveness were the main factors in the management of COVID-19 and a huge number of people worked on the frontlines putting their lives at risk out of kindness and empathy. KK Shailaja elaborated on the approach the state adopted to “systematically increase the capacity and resilience of the state's public health system”.
“As a science teacher early on in my career and then on joining politics, it has been my strong convection that a scientific temper must be promoted and it encompasses an attitude of curiosity and desire to reform," she said.
KK Shailaja was re-elected to the Kerala Assembly from the Mattannur constituency, after the 2016-2021 term of the LDF government in Kerala, with a victory margin of more than 60,000 votes. Currently, she has been appointed as the CPI(M) party whip, with no cabinet position.
Previously in June 2020, Shailaja was honoured by the United Nations. She was also invited to speak on the United Nations Public Service Day and was the only speaker from India to speak on COVID-19 management strategies in Kerala.