The Kashmir region is wracked by low supplies of oxygen and poor testing that has marred the COVID management as it sees an increasing number of deaths in the hospitals here. In the rural areas, there is no oxygen facility and the low supplies at the hospitals in Srinagar was a major worry, said doctors.
Authorities have admitted that the situation was challenging given the rise in the number of cases. Across Jammu and Kashmir for a population of nearly 1.2 crore, there are only 600 ventilators. In Srinagar city, as per official figures, there is an availability of only 13,000 litres of oxygen per minute which, the medical experts say, was too low to cater to the ongoing rise in the cases.
Several doctors said that each patient requires between 5-10 litres of oxygen per minute and the existing supplies at Srinagar hospitals are sufficient only for 2,000-3,000 people in a given time.
The work on the oxygen plants at the government hospitals has been going on at a slow pace. Although two more plants were opened in the northern Kashmir areas of Kupwara and Sopore on Sunday and another one was ready for use in southern Kashmir’s Shopian. The plants with their capacities of 1,000-litre per minute could cater to a few hundred people in a given time only, officials said.
Chairman of voluntary organisation, Athrout, Bashir Ahmad Nadvi, said that they are not able to fulfil the demand of oxygen concentrators and were giving it only to “those whose oxygen levels were low.” He said that the small oxygen concentrators have also been given to patients who are currently admitted at several hospitals in Srinagar.
On Monday, out of the 2,135 COVID-19 cases, 1,344 were detected from the Kashmir region and the rest from Jammu. From 25 deaths, 14 were reported from the Jammu region and 11 from Kashmir Valley and the number of active positive cases across Jammu and Kashmir was 20601. Apart from the low medical supplies of oxygen, patients like Neelofar Shiekh, 54, have also red-flagged lack of drugs like Remdesivir at the hospitals here.
Neelofar’s son, Amad Sheikh, said that he couldn’t get the medicine at one of the hospitals in Srinagar and they have been trying to get it from the market. His mother, he said, was admitted to the hospital three days back.
In the valley’s biggest hospital of SKIMS, officials said, only a few beds out of the 260 isolation beds for the COVID-19 patients identified last week were available. A SKIMS official said that they have admitted 230 patients and in the last 24-hours only 37 were admitted here.
The situation was no better at the other hospitals across Kashmir. Medical Superintendent of Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital (SMHS), Dr Nazir Chaudhary, said that the people “stocking up” on the oxygen facilities at the hospital by getting cylinders and concentrators from the market were doing it on their own and the hospital had sufficient “availability of oxygen”. The hospital administration had however been asking for boosting its facilities from the government, officials said.
The authorities have begun to run makeshift facilities of COVID centres in Srinagar, opening one at a stadium and another at the university campus in Srinagar, but doctors said that they could cater to the mild cases only. Such facilities could not be an alternative for “people requiring better medical attention at an intensive care unit (ICU) equipped with a ventilator”, said a doctor.
“Yes, we are pathetically low on ventilators which are required when one needs a complete artificial respiratory intervention,” added another government doctor on anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
In a district like Shopian, where the first of its kind facility of 1,000 litres of oxygen was ready for use, the chief medical officer (CMO), Dr Ramesh Kumar, said that they have only four ventilators. In other districts, the situation was equally poor to the extent that the authorities admitted that the management of patients with a high flow of oxygen was not “possible”.
The level of COVID testing was also not “satisfactory”, officials said, and as people are beginning to report for severity at hospitals the oxygen shortage was getting aggravated. Documents of a recent meeting in April to review the COVID-19 cases in Kashmir by the divisional authorities showed a callous attitude. “District Budgam, Anantnag, Baramulla have not tested 337, 162 & 43 RAT negative symptomatic patients respectively under RT-PCR,” read one of the documents.
Kashmir epidemiologist, Dr Talat Jabeen, said that the hospitals in the districts were only acting as COVID-19 collection centres and the results of the samples, which take a day to be transported to the Srinagar city, were delivered to patients in a few days.
People generally have been sceptical about the authenticity of numbers, more so, when Kashmir has seen a new variant of the COVID-19 virus being detected. Jabeen said that it was however detected from a traveller to Kashmir during the “genome sequencing” of travellers which was “mandatory for all positive cases”.
Several activists have slammed the authorities for allowing the tourists to Kashmir and organising promotional events like attracting the crowds to Asia’s largest Tulip garden in Srinagar when the cases were rising.
Authorities have continued the night curfew across the region and placed the Valley into a complete lockdown on Sunday, which began from 8 pm on Saturday and ended by 6 am on Monday. In fresh orders, the public parks were shut and the prayers were barred at several mosques while the registration of the yatris to the Amarnath pilgrimage up in the Himalayas has also been suspended.