How Kashmir is fighting the covid-19 pandemic
Lack of infrastructure and long shifts are taking a toll on healthcare workers in Kashmir
For KM, who works at the Government Chest Diseases (CD) Hospital in Srinagar and is taking care of covid-19 patients, life after shifts that can stretch up to 24 hours doesn’t get easier. There is no accommodation near the hospital. When he reaches home, he takes off his clothes after entering the main gate, bathes and isolates himself in a room till the next shift.
“I can feel a void between me and them (the family) growing day by day. I don’t even see them.... I just let them know I am home," he says.
Kashmir reported its first case on 18 March, when a woman who had returned from umrah in Saudi Arabia tested positive. Till 13 April, 253 cases had been reported in Jammu and Kashmir, most of them from the Kashmir division.
Healthcare workers say they are not equipped. “There were no PPEs (personal protection equipment), not even for those directly dealing with covid-19 cases. Initially, we attended to positive cases without gear," says a CD hospital nurse. None of the workers wanted to be named.
According to one of them, MK, the Union territory has just 200 ventilators. The government has now placed an order for 400 more. There are just 1,200 nurses across half-a-dozen major hospitals in Srinagar—no recruitment has been done in more than 20 years. According to Suhail Naik, president, Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK), there are more than 3,000 “unemployed doctors", with no recruitment of dentists in 10 years.
Some of the nurses are working 24 hours. Most of them have to travel home at the end of their shifts, no matter how far. One nurse talks about a friend finishing a shift at 10am but reaching home at around 4pm. “If one person among us catches the infection, it will have dangerous repercussions," says a nurse at GB Pant Hospital, Sonwar. “We had a nurse getting infected at a hospital but fortunately she was sent to quarantine early."
The government has begun the process of hiring retired doctors and paramedics. DAK, however, believes it would be better to hire the unemployed doctors: Retired doctors would be more susceptible to the infection; and hiring those unemployed would augment the system.
The Union territory was just emerging from a security “lockdown" when covid-19 hit. Even today, high-speed internet is not allowed, making it difficult to access the literature updated daily on covid-19. MK says: “...it is very different for Kashmiris; we just came out of a more than six-month lockdown, we paid a price, and now this..."
Doctors and nurses had started speaking out on social media platforms, or to the media, till the Directorate of Health Services, Kashmir, in a 1 April order, asked health workers to abstain from “uncalled for reporting to media".
“The gag order was uncalled for," says SM, a doctor at the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Hospital in Srinagar.
Sameer Mattoo, director, health services, disagrees. “There were people unnecessarily creating fuss and creating problems for the department in its work in dealing with the pandemic," he says.
Irfan Tramboo is a Srinagar-based journalist with specialization in health reporting.
FIRST PUBLISHED17.04.2020 | 10:46 AM IST