Amid shortage of PPEs, volunteers in Kashmir valiantly fight against Covid-19

Frontline health workers in the Valley are bereft of Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) making them and their families more vulnerable to contract the disease

Amid shortage of PPEs, volunteers in Kashmir valiantly fight against Covid-19

Gulzar Bhat

Javed Yousuf is not an early bird, but nowadays he wakes up at half past five. After a quick shower and breakfast, Javed makes a dash for a local hospital in Shopian, some 50 kms south of Srinagar.

As soon as he shows up at the facility, he immediately readies himself by slipping into a gown, wearing a mask and a pair of surgical gloves.

As the coronavirus cases in Kashmir have gone through the roof, hundreds of frontline health workers and volunteers have been put on high alert. Jammu and Kashmir has recorded a total number of 51 active positive cases thus far while two persons passed away after they contracted the baffling disease outside Jammu and Kashmir.

Health care facilities in this long drawn out conflict-hit region are not good enough. Although people in the armed conflict zones need critical care facilities the most, there are less than 100 ventilators and 85 ICU beds available at various hospitals across the Valley. People in many critical situations die as they do not receive proper medical attention. The scenario in the rural area is more harrowing.

After the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation became more fragile. To help the frontline health workers, many volunteers, non-government organisations and other employees have been working in tandem.

However, in 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 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 tough situation and we need more volunteers," says Javed.

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. With the help of other colleagues, he has traced 200 contacts of both positive and suspected cases.

Javed sometimes receives a phone call in the dead of night and he races to help the people.

"Yesterday, at around 2 am, I received a call from a suspected Covid-19 person isolated in the hospital whose symptoms had worsened and I rushed to the hospital. I soon alerted the doctors and we not only provided the medical care to the patient but also offered him solace," Javed says.

"Such situations sometimes gnaw at me, but I never thought of giving up".

According to District Magistrate, Shopian, Choudhary Mohammad Yasin, there are around 100-120 people under quarantine in the district.

In Kashmir, frontline health workers are bereft of Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) making them and their families more vulnerable to contract the disease. Even many health workers gnash their teeth over the poor protective gears being given to them by the government. The gear comprises a simple gown along with a fabric mask and a pair of gloves.

Dr Suhail Nayak, president, Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) told National Herald that sufficient PPEs are not available with the frontline health workers and one needed to differentiate between simple gear and PPEs.

"Government should not only supply sufficient PPEs to all health workers — from doctors to those who clean the surfaces —but also help them maintain their sustainability," Nayak said.

Nayak added that even if government purchases more ventilators, there would be a sheer paucity of workforce to operate these life support machines.

"It will be like giving ten cars to a single driver. Can he drive them simultaneously?" asked Nayak.

After a day's work, Javed is home at 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 years old son since last two weeks as he fears he may have brought the infection with him, although he takes full care.

Javed says his only request to the people is to stay indoors and steer clear of those who are unwell.

There are sure many such volunteers across the Valley whose stories remain to be told.

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