A team of health workers works hard despite odds to fight pandemic in one of Kashmir's outlying districts

A seven member team of health workers in Shopian district has been working tirelessly to stave off COVID-19 infection and carry out testing in distant villages

A team of health workers works hard despite odds to fight pandemic in one of Kashmir's outlying districts

Gulzar Bhat

Last year when baffling Coronavirus started gripping the Valley like other parts of the country, Hir Pora Shopian, a quaint village on the historic Mughal road, some 65 km south of Srinagar, emerged as a new hotspot for the infection. The local hospital administration formed a seven member team comprising two dental surgeons, four lab and dental technicians and an nursing orderly and trained them to take the samples from the suspected COVID-19 patients. The team immediately rushed to the village to carry out mass testing.

Since then, the members of the team have been collecting the samples with an unflagging enthusiasm.

"Since April 2020, our team has been working tirelessly to stave off the transmission of Coronavirus", says Rameez Maqsood, a team member who works as dental technician.

Rameez says that the team makes relentless efforts to prod people into testing.

"The people particularly in the rural areas are disinclined to go for testing. We bump into many people who still don't believe in the disease and its ferocity ", says Rameez.

He recalled how the officials from the police and civil administration last year appealed to the people to give their samples for the testing.

"Even loudhailers were used to make the appeals", added Rameez.

How the team works

Every day the team members report at district hospital Shopian at around half past nine in the morning. They soon put on snow white protective gears and rush to a designated testing station, located a short walk away. Dusting off the decrepit wooden chairs and benches, the team starts its work at around 10 am.

While the dental surgeons supervise the overall process, the other members collect the samples.

According to Rameez, around 150 to 200 samples are being taken by the team and sent to laboratories on a daily basis.

All the members of team remain busy throughout the day and hardly find time to eat or drink.

"During the day, we can't even take a sip of water, let alone lunch. With parched lips and dry mouth, we continue our work", says Dr Arshad, one of the dental surgeons, who supervises the team.

He said that the team members are unable to answer the phone calls from their family or friends even in case of a family emergency .

"Once we are in a protective gear, it is not possible for us to use our phone", Dr Arshad said, adding that they have to bear with the sweating inside the gear alsp.

The team is hardly able to see their families at home as they have to isolate themselves after their duties.

"I don't even remember when I had lunch with my parents last time", said, Dr Shafqat, another Dental surgeon.

Despite taking all the precautions, three members of the team contracted the infection. While Dr Arshad and Dr Shafqat tested positive last year, the test of Mohammad Jahangir Mir, a lab technician returned positive a few days ago.

"Last week, I developed some symptoms and later I tested positive for the COVID-19", said Jahangir.

Jahangir added that it was an unusual situation and the team like thousands of other frontline health workers, is also making efforts to generate awareness among the people.

Javaid Iqbal, the senior member nudging fifty, not only works alongside the team but also raises the morale of others members. According to Javaid , the team last year travelled to many outlying villages to collect samples.

The ballooning number of COVID-19 cases in the Valley has overburdened the frontline health workers. The region has logged around 28,937 COVID-19 positive cases and 1844 deaths as of May 23.

Although the J &K administration announced special incentives for the frontline health workers in the region, there are several casual workers who have not been provided such special perks.

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