How volunteers and frontline health workers fight the spread of COVID-19 in rural areas of Kashmir
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation of health care facilities in Kashmir has become more fragile. Many volunteers, non-government organisations and other employees have been working in tandem with the frontline health workers. But in rural areas like Shopian, where two villages have already been declared out of bounds, very few people are coming forward.
At half-past seven in the morning, Javed Yousuf shows up at a local hospital in Shopian, a small district about 50 km south of Srinagar inhabited by many well-heeled apple orchardists, and begins his work.
He scrambles into his gown, wears a mask and enters an isolation ward to see if the people suspected of contracting the COVID-19 are fine. In case any patient has a health issue, Javed quickly calls a doctor.
The ballooning number of Coronavirus cases in Kashmir has put the hundreds of frontline health workers and volunteers on high alert.
Jammu and Kashmir has logged 51 active positive cases thus far. Two persons have also succumbed to the virus which they had contracted outside.
The health care facilities in this long-drawn-out conflict-afflicted region are not good enough. Although people in the armed conflict zones need the critical care facilities most, there are less than 100 ventilators and 85 ICU beds available in various hospitals across the Valley. People in many critical situations die as they do not receive proper medical attention. The situation in rural areas is more harrowing.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation has become even more fragile. Many volunteers, non-government organisations and other employees have been working in tandem with the frontline health workers.
However, in the rural areas like Shopian where two villages have already been declared out of bounds, very few people are coming forward.
Javed, a data entry operator with the National Rural Health Mission, has volunteered to help the shorthanded staff at his local hospital. "We have to work together if we want to defeat Coronavirus. It is a very tough situation and we need more volunteers", he says.
Javed has multiple roles to play. Besides his regular work, he traces the contacts of both suspected and positive cases and also takes care of those who are in isolation wards at the hospital. He, with the help of his other colleagues, has traced 200 contacts of both positive and suspected cases.
He some times receives a phone call in the dead of night and rushes to help the person in need. "Yesterday, at around 2 am, I received a call from a suspected COVID-19 person isolated in the hospital whose symptoms had worsened. I rushed to the hospital. I alerted the doctors and we not only provided the medical care to the patient but also offered him solace", Javed says. " Such situations some times gnaw at me, but I have never thought of giving up".
According to the District Magistrate of Shopian, Choudhary Mohammad Yasin, there are around 100-120 persons under quarantine in the district.
In Kashmir, the frontline health workers are bereft of the Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) making them and their families more vulnerable to the virus. Even many health workers grumble about the poor and inadequate protective gear being given to them by the government. The gear comprises a simple gown, fabric mask and a pair of gloves.
Dr Suhail Nayak, president Doctors Association Kashmir ( DAK), told Asiaville that there were not enough PPEs available with the frontline health workers and that one should differentiate between a simple gear and a PPEs. "Government should not only supply sufficient PPEs to all health workers--from Doctors to those who clean the surfaces --but also to maintain and sustain this as well", Nayak said.
He added that even if the government purchased more ventilators, there wouldn’t be enough workforce to operate these life support machines. "It will be like given ten cars to a single driver. Can he drive them simultaneously?,“ he asks.
After the day's work, Javed gets home by 10 in the night. And after changing his clothes he sanitizes himself thoroughly and waits for at least two hours before he sits with his family of four and eats food.
Javed says that he has not caressed his four-year-old son since the last two weeks as he fears he may have brought the infection with him, in spite of the full care he takes.
Javed says his only request to the people is to stay indoors and steer clear of those who are unwell. There are many volunteers like Javed across the Valley whose stories remain to be told.