COVID-19: Condition of J&K Hospitals Puts Staff & Patients At Risk
Worried patients inside a doctor’s OPD room at Bandipora Hospital of Northern Kashmir.
Worried patients inside a doctor’s OPD room at Bandipora Hospital of Northern Kashmir. (Source: Umar Para)

COVID-19: Condition of J&K Hospitals Puts Staff & Patients At Risk

With the incidence of COVID-19 cases spiking in India, the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is facing a dire situation as their seven-month-long lockdown – in place even before the coronavirus pandemic – crippled its economy following the abrogation of Article 370 in August last year.

Mobile internet services remain restricted to 2G even after eight positive cases were reported from the Kashmir Valley, with three more on Tuesday, 24 March. With these cases, Kashmir is bracing for the pandemic with even less resources at its disposal than the rest of the country.

With a stricter nationwide lockdown now in place, the desperate appeals from Kashmiris and Indian ministers to restore high-speed Internet in J&K has received no consideration from the Central Government in New Delhi, which now directly controls the territory.

On Tuesday, a 22-year-old youth along with two others were reported positive, while on Wednesday, four more cases tested positive, taking Kashmir’s tally to eight. The local administration has also raised alarms that the cases might be more numerous than what is being reported at its premier health institutions in Srinagar city.

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With the lockdown in place, people have been advised to stay indoors and not risk getting out of their homes. Srinagar Cities District Magistrate tweeted on Wednesday,

“Doctors suggest that the actual cases in the community could be more than those tested positive. For heaven’s sake, stay at home.”

Without Proper Infrastructure, Patients & Doctors Equally at Risk

The question, however, arises: are the doctors and patients safe? Interactions with both suggest not. There’s a looming fear that the people here will die without any medical care, as the state machinery is not equipped to deal with a worsening situation.

A report in one of the local dailies suggests that there are only 97 ventilators available in Kashmir for seven million people, out of which most are already occupied, while the rest are out of order.
Despite appeals to maintain social distancing, a huge rush was observed at District Hospital in North Kashmir’s Bandipora on Monday.
Despite appeals to maintain social distancing, a huge rush was observed at District Hospital in North Kashmir’s Bandipora on Monday.
(Photo: Umar Para)

Refusing to acknowledge this fact, the Government Medical College (GMC) Principal, Samia Rasheed, took to social media to say that there are enough ventilators in Kashmir to contain the situation, but insufficient manpower to run them. However, she then tweeted again about a shortage of ventilators and demanded more from the Minister of State.

“We had a detailed meeting with MoS Dr Jitendra Singh to discuss our preparedness for COVID-19. Highlighted the issue of shortage of Ventilators with him and director NHM. We have been promised 40 high-end ventilators by the end of the month.”
Samia Rasheed, Principal, Government Medical College

The statements came after the case of a 67-year-old woman who tested positive. She is believed to have skipped mandatory quarantine at the airport and made a VIP exit at the behest of her IPS son-in-law, whose family was also later quarantined, Kashmir Reader first reported. The Women is now said to have recovered and tested negative COVID-19.

Also Read : Is India’s Healthcare System Equipped to Tackle COVID-19 Pandemic?

Now, when three more cases were detected on a single day, the Kashmir Valley has been sent into jitters, with hundreds of travellers and students having entered Kashmir without quarantine or screening.

The Valley braces for yet another crisis, as healthcare officials and patients remain equally at risk given the inadequate infrastructure at the rural level.

Reality of Hospitals

Bandipora District, where five positive cases are now confirmed, is ill-equipped and the hospital wears a grim look. Principal Secretary of Srinagar, Rohit Kansal, tweeted,

“Four more persons, all from Bandipora, tested positive today. Preliminary reports suggest that they were in close contact with the Srinagar patient who tested positive yesterday. All five reported to have participated together in a religious event.”

In the area, the District Hospital runs in temporary and shabby structures. The new hospital, once said to be one-of-a-kind, has been languishing under construction for the last 14 years.

7-month-old Fatima who has Pneumonia in her mother's lap.
7-month-old Fatima who has Pneumonia in her mother's lap.
(Photo: Umar Para)

The Medical Officer at this hospital, Dr Aijaz Kahn, who first attended the positive case on Monday, had to self-isolate after ferrying the patient to the Medical College in Baramulla.

He ferried him in his own vehicle, following the instructions of his superior officer, after the man presented with flu-like symptoms. The driver who ferried them, according to the officials, also contacted his family. Both the doctor and the driver had spent the night with their families and the following day at work.

Also Read : Kashmir Reports First COVID-19 Death; 65-Year-Old Passes Away

10-Month-old Sarim, with cough and fever being treated at North Kashmir's District Hospital in Bandipora.
10-Month-old Sarim, with cough and fever being treated at North Kashmir's District Hospital in Bandipora.
(Photo: Umar Para)
A lady patient with her infant child waits for her turn at hospital in North Kashmir's Bandipora.
A lady patient with her infant child waits for her turn at hospital in North Kashmir's Bandipora.
(Photo: Umar Para)
A sanitation worker of District Hospital Bandipora wiping the floor of a general ward without any protective gear on Tuesday.
A sanitation worker of District Hospital Bandipora wiping the floor of a general ward without any protective gear on Tuesday.
(Photo: Umar Para)

In this ill-equipped hospital, doctors narrate a horrifying tale. They say they are not even equipped with masks for some measure of protection.

Doctor Asrar, one of the Doctors in the OPD, said,

“We don’t even have proper masks to wear, forget about the protective gear. The situation is such that I am thinking of even quitting my job... but then we think beyond our own lives.”

The sister of one of the paramedical staff, who was attending to the patients at the ward without wearing gloves or a gown, says,

“There is a great rush of patients in the ward, they are not protected by masks, the attends also squeeze into this space. It’s putting both the patients’ and our lives at risk.”
Worried patients inside Doctor's OPD room at Bandipora Hospital of Northern Kashmir.
Worried patients inside Doctor's OPD room at Bandipora Hospital of Northern Kashmir.
(Photo: Umar Para)
Abdur Ahmad Najjar, 75 an Asthama patient at North Kashmir's Bandipora Hospital.
Abdur Ahmad Najjar, 75 an Asthama patient at North Kashmir's Bandipora Hospital.
(Photo: Umar Para)

It’s a similar case with the technical staff. An X-ray technician, Mohammad Yaseen Khan, also feels unsafe. Wearing a disposable mask, he takes a chest X-ray of a 70-year-old old man, Abdul Gaffar, an asthma patient.

“We wear these masks for the whole day, which otherwise according to the guidelines are to be discarded every two hours. Often do not have supplies in the hospital and in these times, it’s quite tough to mitigate to the larger demand and it makes us more vulnerable.”
Mohammad Yaseen Khan
A paramilitary personel stands guard at main chowk in North Kashmir’s Bandipora District on Wednesday enforcing the 21-day lockdown.
A paramilitary personel stands guard at main chowk in North Kashmir’s Bandipora District on Wednesday enforcing the 21-day lockdown.
(Photo: Umar Para)

The same concerns are raised by the patients who attend to the hospital. Zamrooda, 26, who has a 7-month-old daughter Fatima with pneumonia, says that she stayed for the full night in the hospital's general ward and felt unsafe due to the congested space with patients and attendants huddled closely together.

Even the he sanitisation staff at the hospital is sanitising it without having any gear to wear, not even masks or gloves.

“There is no supply of safety gear in the hospital, and we feel we are the most vulnerable to the virus.”
Sanitising staff

We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated.

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