Sidra Insar Chaudhary
The fear over the pandemic is compounded by a feeling among Kashmiris that the administration is not being transparent with them.” Shahid Chaudhary, head of the civil administration in Srinagar, wrote on Twitter, “Trust me, if I share a summary of daily events, no one in Kashmir will sleep”. The real crisis, however, may well lie in Kashmir’s hospitals, which remain understaffed and ill-equipped to fight the outbreak.
A veteran doctor and former Principal of Government Medical College (GMC) in Srinagar, warned that a major disaster could occur. “If coronavirus pandemic happens here, we will be devastated. We will die like cattle.” Kashmir is severely short of nursing staff. Against a requirement of 3,193 nurses there are only 1,290 sanctioned posts of staff nurses in the IOJ&K with a deficit of 1,903 posts. The audit noted that the doctor to patient ratio in the Kashmir region is one of the lowest in India. “Compared to the doctor-patient ratio of 1:2,000 in India, Jammu and Kashmir has one doctor for 3,866.
The doctors said Kashmir’s healthcare system is “ill-equipped to deal with even normal things in normal times”. “It will crush us and devastate us, unless the community intervenes. An official audit of healthcare facilities conducted in 2018 found that the existing manpower was “barely sufficient to run the health institutions in view of sustained increase of patient flow across the state”. Dr Ahmad, at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, wrote on social media that drs fear going home after work.”We do not have the required protective equipment. We just wear a surgical mask, normal gloves and surgical gown and a cap”. If we get infected, the whole hospital staff would have to be quarantined. We need proper equipment so that the health system keeps going. At the region’s two major hospitals, which see thousands of patients daily from across Kashmir, two doctors have already been put in quarantine after they developed symptoms of COVID-19.
Amid the alarming threat of the spread of COVID-19, Kashmir also faces a crippling blockade of high-speed internet which has effectively hampered an effective awareness campaign among the people as well as among doctors Iqbal Saleem, a professor of surgery at GMC, said on social media that he could not download a COVID-19 manual for doctors due to slow speed internet. He wrote another message on twitter, “this is so frustrating trying to download the guidelines for intensive care management as proposed by doctors in England. 24 Mbs and one hour is the speed apparently. Still not able to do so due to low-speed mobile internet that is the only thing available in the region. Another doctor working at a hospital in north Kashmir said the low-speed internet was handicapping them when it came to getting updated information from around the globe. “We don’t know anything, and we are not able to download research papers.
The ban of high-speed internet has also made it impossible for many in Kashmiris mainly IT employees to work from home, one of the important precautionary measures taken in many countries to contain the spread of the disease. “In wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the govt must restore full access to internet services in the region of Jammu and Kashmir and ensure that people have full access to health and safety related information” said the Executive Director of Amnesty International India. Amid the growing concerns, more than 170 academics from around the world have written a letter to the World Health Organization and UN special reporters about the restoration of high-speed internet in Kashmir.