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Ground Report Kashmir: Pregnant Women, Families Suffer Amid Travel Restrictions and Overcrowded Hospitals

Due to the unavailability of proper transport facilities, patients are forced to hire private cabs for visiting hospitals.

In the crowded waiting hall of Lal Ded hospital, Nazir Ahmed and his wife Zareefa Bano sit on the ground. Several patients and their relatives have also spread mats on the floor for lunch. At night, many people staying at the hospital are compelled to sleep in the room due to lack of options.

Nazir Ahmed’s sister-in-law Shameema Bano gave birth to a baby girl last week. Due to complications in her delivery, she required a C-Section and the doctors at the district hospital in Bandipora have referred her to Srinagar. The family travelled for three hours from Hajin in Bandipora to Srinagar for her delivery. “We do not have any kind of transport or any vehicle at home. We came from Hajin facing lots of difficulties in an ambulance that the hospital there provided us,” says Nazir Ahmed, adding, “It took us a lot of time to reach the hospital as at many places the roads are closed due to barricades.” It usually takes one hour to cover the distance, but the family had to travel for two extra hours due to restrictions.

Lal Ded Hospital
Lal Ded Hospital waiting hall

Rafiqa Akhtar, a local community health worker — ASHA (accredited social health activist) —  accompanied Shameema to the hospital in Srinagar. In the absence of any viable transport facility, she is also unable to head home for the past four days.

“The patient is stable and the baby girl is doing fine as well, l but I cannot leave because there is no public transport available. I have to wait till the patient gets discharged and I will have to go back with them in an ambulance,” Rafiqa says.

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This is not the only case where the patient and attendant had to face issues. There are dozens of people who are suffering on an everyday basis in the Valley. Though postpaid mobile services were restored on October 14 after 71 days of blockade, pre-paid connections and internet services are still not functional.

Travel Woes

Mubeena Ahmed from Qazigund, Anantnag is expecting her first child and admitted in Lal Ded hospital. She was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure since the initial days of her pregnancy. Mubeena’s hometown is approximately 75 kilometres from Srinagar. Her family members have to hire a cab or arrange a private car to visit the hospital. They underline that without proper transportation, it’s risky to cover long distances with patients. There is a possibility that pregnant women facing complications might deliver on the road in the absence of medical practitioners. Even for the attendants, it is cumbersome to travel back and forth.

After Mubeena complained of severe headache one evening, her husband Aijaz Ahmed Wani took her to the local medical practitioner in Qazigund. He checked and confirmed that her blood pressure was very high. Wani immediately took her to the district hospital in Anantnag where the doctors referred her to Srinagar.

“The doctors (in Anantnag) asked us to take her (Mubeena) to the government maternity hospital in Srinagar as she had high BP. They said if she delivers the baby here (Anantnag), they will not be able to control the situation,” Aijaz says. Mubeena’s mother-in-law Taja, who was accompanying the couple, suggested that they should take her to Lal Ded Hospital as it is the biggest maternity hospital in the Valley.

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Staff Crunch

Javeed Ahmad’s sister Yasmeena Akhtar was in her final trimester when she was diagnosed with anemia. When she experienced labour pain, her husband Muzaffar Ahmed and brother-in-law Shabir Ahmed took her to the district hospital in Bijbehara. The doctors informed the family that she might require blood and face complications during delivery. “They (doctors) suggested us to take her to Lal Ded hospital. But we knew that they are short on staff and avoided treating the patient,” says Javeed Ahmed. Underlining the ordeal, he adds, “Firstly, there is no transport and secondly it takes hours to cross a twenty-minute distance and the condition is not conducive at all to travel long distances.”

According to official data revealed by Lal Ded hospital, on average 32 expecting mothers were referred to the hospital every day from different parts of Kashmir in 2018. Being a tertiary-care hospital, referrals constitute the bulk of patient load from 22 districts and peripheries. Statistics reveal that at least one out of every three cases referred to Lal Ded could be handled in peripheral hospitals.

The Union government revoked the special status, or limited autonomy, granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019. All the communication and internet services were blocked on the instructions of the Union government. Normal life came to a complete halt and the general public since is facing tremendous difficulty. Schools, shops, and businesses are closed from the past four months and the entire community is protesting silently since then.

Since the last three decades, people in Kashmir are used to certain types of restrictions. Post-Article 370 revocation, however, the unavailability of proper medical facilities and public transport is troubling patients to a large extent.

Safina Nabi is an independent journalist.

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