Nightmare in Paradise: Hospitals remain unreachable for these Kashmir villagers
Poru Kalnag village in the Kokernag area of Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag district may be scenic but the village lacks even the most basic facilities, especially health care
Poru Kalnag village in the Kokernag area of Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag district is around 40 km from the district headquarters. A remote area located on a hillock, this village has around 250 households with a population of 1,100. Overlooking the beautiful mountain range of Pir Panjal, the view here may be scenic but the village lacks even the most basic facilities, especially health care. The fact that there is no road connectivity to nearby hospitals and medical centres further compounds the situation.
"The village has witnessed the deaths of at least 10 people en route to the hospital. The government has forgotten us, and failed in delivering even basic health care. There is no proper road connectivity and patients and their attendants are forced to walk 6 km to get to the main road before they get transport to reach the sub-district hospital, which is 12 km away," local resident Qasim Boker told 101Reporters.
This dilapidated road heading towards the village is an evidence of poor connectivity in the area, which has adversely impacted access to health facilities for the residents.
Narrating an ill-fated incident, Boker said" "In 2010, Mirza Akhter, a 30-year-old mother of two daughters, died on the way to the hospital. Before that, she had led a normal life. It was a hot summer day and she began experiencing chest pain. Her family members tried to get her to the nearby hospital on a cot carried by the locals. Unfortunately, she died before even reaching the road. Had there been proper health facilities here, she might have survived."
"In 2018, Bibi Boker (27), who was suffering from kidney failure, died on the way to the hospital. In 2021, Abdul Aziz Lone (60) and Mohammad Abdullah Bimla (70) both died on the way to the hospital due to high blood pressure," added Boker.
"We are only being given hollow assurances"
Since Poru Kalnag village is located on hilly terrain, it also witnesses the frequent movement of wild animals. Locals find it very dangerous while treading the hilly routes in the dark, in case of medical emergencies.
"In 2019, local resident Ghulam Nabi Lone lost two children in a single incident. His sons, Arif Ahmad (22) and Sameer Ahmad Lone (19), died after they slipped into a deep gorge near the village. Their neighbours tried to ferry them to the hospital on cots but unfortunately, both of them died on the way," Aijaz Ahmad (28), a village panchayat member, informed 101Reporters.
So grim is the situation here that the residents find themselves struggling for even the most basic facilities.
"We don't even have a medical store here, leave alone a proper health centre. Even for basic check-ups such as blood pressure or blood sugar, we are forced to walk for miles. It gets worse during the harsh winter. School children, senior citizens and patients are the worst sufferers of this neglect by the local authorities. The government is falsely claiming to have connected all the villages with the tehsil and district headquarters," Bokar pointed out.
"We visited several administrative offices and apprised higher officials about our grievances, but all our pleas have fallen on deaf ears as no one is taking our plight seriously. We are only being given hollow assurances," Ahmad added.
"In case of emergencies, there is every chance of fatality"
When 101Reporters spoke to the chief medical officer (CMO) of Anantnag, Doctor Mohammad Zagoo, he called it an "administrational issue". "I've heard about the lack of basic healthcare facilities in the village and I assure you that I will take it up with the Anantnag district administration. If they provide us feasibility there, we will establish a centre," he told.
Dr Zagoo further informs us that the Government of India has launched the National Health Rural Mission (NRHM) to address the health needs of the vulnerable sections of society. He explains that under the public health umbrella, the sub-centre serves as the first level of contact with a community of 5,000 people. For a lower population of 1,000, the first responders are Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA), who provide medical aid to the needy, especially to women and children.
Maryam Bibi (45), an ASHA worker in the village, is witness to the miseries of the people. "The residents face a lot of hardship in summer as well as in winter. In the event of a snowfall, which could be three to four feet high, approaching the main road takes hours due to the slippery conditions. I mostly deal with pregnant women in this area and have so far, helped out in at least 400 deliveries at their homes. In case of medical emergencies, there is every chance of fatality as the patients do not reach the hospital on time," Maryam informed 101Reporters.
Maryam Bibi, an ASHA worker, has facilitated over 400 deliveries in and around the village of Poru Kalnag
"In 2018, Parveena Banoo (28) a pregnant lady went into labour, and as the family was carrying her towards the hospital, she delivered twins on way. One of the babies died immediately due to the lack of proper medical attention during the delivery. There are many such horrendous tales of deaths, but who listens to the woes of such ill-fated people," she added.
"All medical facilities available", claims BMO
Meanwhile, Doctor Gowhar Ali, block medical officer (BMO) of Kokernag, claimed: "We treat almost every patient at the sub-hospital in Kokernag, as nearly all the facilities are available. We conduct general surgeries, deliveries, lower segment caesarean section (LSCS) and, if needed, patients are kept under observation too by admitting them into our health facility."
Dr Ali also supervises the sub-district hospital at Kokernag.
Local politician and advocate Mohammad Saleem points out that the right to health is a fundamental right that has been granted by the Constitution of India to every citizen of this country. "As a political worker, I will raise the issue with the administration," he promised.
Even in these modern times, people from far-flung areas are dying due to lack of basic health care. The government claims to have done a lot in terms of developing health facilities in rural areas, but in villages like Poru Kalnag, when people fall seriously ill, they're not sure if they will even make it the hospital," Saleem commented on the dismal state of affairs.
(The author is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)