WIN 200328 GMC-Baramulla-1585387867017
GMC hospital staff check people in Srinagar. Image Credit: Supplied

Across Kashmir, it has become a common sight to see policemen standing guard at the entrance of different government-run hospitals, thoroughly interrogating patients to keep in check the rush in respective Outpatient Departments (OPDs).

Now, with coronavirus spread looming large in Kashmir, and despite having trained doctors, the primary healthcare centres and district hospitals are not well-equipped and have only limited infrastructure and manpower.

However, major hospitals, including private institutions in Srinagar, face a similar predicament in terms of a lack of advanced mechanics.

Battle within a battle

Kashmir has a population of 7.5 to 8 million, and merely 95 ventilators, with many of them defunct. And, if situation worsens, critically-ill patients would require invasive ventilation to stay alive.

Kashmir’s leading healthcare establishment – Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, (SKIMS) in Soura - has 40 ventilators. Besides, SMHS hospital and Drugjan’s Chest and Diseases Hospital have 18 and 16 ventilators, respectively.

G.B Pant Hospital, the premier institution for children, has 10 ventilators available. Moreover, north Kashmir’s District Hospital at Handwara has four ventilators and three in Government Medical College Hospital Baramulla.

In addition, Barzulla’s Bone and Joints Hospital and renowned Lal Ded Maternity Hospital have two ventilators each. There is no facility of ventilators available in Kupwara and Bandipora.

To cope with the deadly virus, Kashmir’s healthcare system is in a precarious situation amid growing anxiety and fear.

Despite having good doctors, the region is not-so-prepared to ration its ventilators for coronavirus patients as the first death was reported from the Valley on March 26 when a 65-year-old from Hyderpora, Srinagar with underlying conditions died due to a heart attack. So far, 27 people have been declared positive in Jammu & Kashmir (21 in Kashmir alone) with nearly 6,000 including persons in contact with suspected cases are under surveillance, as per the J&K administration’s media bulletin.

The Union Territory of J&K recorded its first novel coronavirus case on March 11 when an inhabitant of Khanyar area in Srinagar city tested positive.

On March 22, due to the growing coronavirus fears, the government announced a lockdown in J&K until March 31, except 16 essential services.

“If the cases continue to rise, for us it will be somewhat impossible to evade disaster. In a similar way, I am happy the way administration has taken timely steps to control the rush of patients when the world is talking about taking preventive measures including social distancing,” said Safiya, a medical practitioner.

Furthermore, like other districts, GMC Baramulla has a special camp for chest disease patients apart from suspected Covid-2019 patients.

A separate section is available for quarantined patients in Baramulla. Recently, at least four Saudi Arabia returnees decided to go under observation voluntarily at GMC Baramulla.

“I think all are doing very well to fight the coronavirus spread. It is true, we lack ventilators diagnostic kits and drugs but hopefully, they will manage,” said Nazir Mushtaq, a senuor doctor.

Substandard healthcare

Meanwhile, the Covid-2019 has stirred fresh fears as people are concerned about the shoddy healthcare sector in Kashmir region.

A doctor, who works in GMC Baramulla and wished not to be named, maintained the situation was grim. However, the doctor hailed the prompt action taken by the hospital administration.

“It is quite evident in Kashmir when it comes to the healthcare system we need to do our best to avoid the coronavirus spread. The referrals to Srinagar from other hospitals have always been on a higher side. God forbid, if the situation turns ugly, we will be doomed,” he said.

Given the poor healthcare infrastructure in the region, Mohammad Salim Khan, the Head of the Department for Community Medicine and Nodal Officer COVID-19 at the Government Medical College Srinagar, sheds light on the readiness.

“The supplies are being replenished to cater for 1-2 months. Hospitals are preparing to manage COVID-19 cases. Primary to tertiary institutions have been given defined responsibilities. Also, supplies are being replenished to cater for 1-2 months. It would depend on how much COVID-19 load would burden our health system. There’s preparedness to an extent,” Salim said.

-Tahir Ibn Manzoor is a freelance writer based in New Delhi.