The decimation of Srinagar’s major private and public hospitals and a chain of diagnostic centres could push the society back by many decades if the fresh investments do not undo the loss immediately, reports Safwat Zargar
For last two weeks Javid Ahmad Khan of Ikhrajpora, Srinagar, has been pleading to every person he comes across: “Please get a doctor to have a look at my mother. She can’t move. She has metal pins fixed into her.” But till the morning of 23rd September, he hasn’t found a doctor. His mother, who was operated upon by doctors at Bone and Joint Hospital, Barzulla, during the first week of September, needs dressing and removing of stitches.
The evening of September 9 gave Zawoora village in Srinagar outskirts, a sight, they won’t forget for decades. At 4 PM, an old man with Intra Vein (IV) drip still inserted into his arm, reached the village on a horse. The old man, who claimed to be 125-year-old, had fled the hospital in Srinagar city when the floods came and trekked on a horse over Zabarwan Mountain to reach Zawoora, a plush green village near Khonmoh.
“It was unbelievable. The horseman had charged him 1000 rupees from Srinagar,” recalls Fayaz Ahmad, a local volunteer. “He stayed at the village for the night and told us his address in Islamabad. We dropped him the next day at his home in our own car.”
Javid’s predicament and the old man’s (whose name couldn’t be confirmed) hilly ordeal, serves a perfect anecdote about the condition of health care in Srinagar after the city was submerged by floods on September 7. Floods badly hit the patch of Srinagar city where most of the government, as well as private health care institutions, are located, including valley’s sole children and lone maternity speciality hospital.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has estimated the loss of Rs. 150 crores to health care. Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Harsh Vardhan on his second Kashmir visit Tuesday asked two Delhi-based health officials to submit a report on the damage to medical infrastructure in Srinagar.
The worst-hit was super speciality care Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital, which remained submerged for more than 12 days and where the floods caused highest damages: a loss estimated to the tune of 100 crores. The hospital’s oxygen concentrator plant, radiology department, three Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan machines, two Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines, seven ventilators fitted on four-bedded Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Ear Nose Throat (ENT) and Ophthalmology theatres, Doppler USG, Echo-Cardiograph laboratory and Neurology laboratory, all, were under the deluge. Reports say 13 patients died during the period the hospital remained submerged, while some 800 patients were evacuated from the top floor of the hospital building when the water level was rising.
Bashir Ahmad Falahi, executive member, Athrout, a welfare organisation, was among the first locals to reach SMHS when floods seeped into the hospital. “We shifted fifteen dead bodies, 600 patients and around 100 medical and para-medical staff when water level began to rise,” says Falahi. For three days, Falahi along with his group of 200 volunteers provided food, medicines and water to the people trapped in the hospital.
“There was no official help from the government at all. Even some of the top-level officials of the hospitals were staying with us,” he says.
However, principal, Government Medical College (GMC) Dr Rafiq Ahmad Pampori, while not refuting deaths at the hospital during floods, says “the figures of death and evacuated patients have been exaggerated.” He also says more than 100 patients were shifted to Sheri Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Soura in boats. “I personally visited shifted patients at SKIMS.”
One of the major absorbers of patient rush, the figure of which runs in thousands, SMHS administration has for now shifted the Out-Patients Department (OPD) in upper floors of the building. The hospital staff is facilitated by many volunteers from different religious and social welfare organisations, in cleaning up the ground floor. “Cleaning process is still on and hopefully by next week, we will be able to restore the hospital in full,” informs Pampori. “Though we have suffered heavy losses of equipment and machinery due to the floods, we will be getting all the essential supplies in a few days.”
Valley’s lone children hospital, Govind Ballabh (GB) Pant hospital, was submerged in Jhelum overflow till the first floor for about two weeks, resulting in complete damage to X-ray plant, laboratory, generators and blood bank – all housed in the ground floor. At present, the hospital’s OPD services, which were restored five days back, are functioning from the second floor of the building. However, the In-Patients Department (IPD) for critical patients will be restored by next week, hospital administration claims.
Dr Muneer Masoodi, Medical Superintendent, GB Pant hospital, says as of now all the ailing babies and children are being referred to SKIMS Soura and Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial (JLNM) Hospital Rainwari. “Full restoration will take some time but we will announce about the restoration of the hospital for critical patients in three or four days,” he says. ”Dewatering and cleaning of the hospital are on.”
During the floods, all the patients were shifted to 92 BN Army Hospital at Badami Bagh, Masoodi informs. “Our stock of medicine and other drugs was not affected by floods. Our medical records are completely safe. Electricity and drinking water has been restored already,” Masoodi says.
On Monday, a government spokesman said more than 3500 babies were born in government hospitals across the valley from 4 September to 20 – a fortnight of death and destruction raged by floods. The spokesman also said, during this period, 577595 patients came to the OPDs in all the district hospitals across the Kashmir valley.
Commenting on the media reports that many infants had died in the hospital during floods, Masoodi says “there were only three or four deaths during that time and all the patients had been shifted to Army Hospital when the water level began swelling.”
The state of valley’s lone maternity speciality hospital Lal Ded is no different. On September 7, when Jhelum breached its banks, Medical Superintendent of the hospital, Dr Mushtaq Rather was able to save only the light-weight portable machines. The two oxygen plants, generators, oscillators, X-ray plant and blood bank, were swallowed by gushing waters. Lal Ded hospital, which remained submerged almost for a fortnight, is still not functioning except the OPD services.
Altaf Bukhari, a businessman-turned-politician turned out to be the ‘crisis manager’ for thousands of flood-affected people. His complex provided shelter to thousands rendered homeless by the flood.
Bukhari himself sailed on troubled waters and rescued 50 women with caesarean operation from Srinagar’s LD Hospital. “These women were bleeding when we rescued them,” Bukhari told Kashmir Life. “I converted one of the halls of my complex into the post-operative care unit where doctors treated these women.”
On September 8, Mohammad Yusuf, a volunteer, visited LD hospital at 4 in the evening to check on patients. The scenes horrify him to this moment. “All the hospital staff had fled except two nurses. There were around 200 patients without any food or water since morning,” Yusuf told Kashmir Life.
For now, the LD hospital has shifted its 10-15 patients to Sanat Nagar maternity hospital and 15-20 patients to Bone and Joint hospital, Barzulla. A private health care institute Ahmad Hospital on Nowgam Byepass where more than 90 surgeries were conducted in three days, catered to the most of patient inflow in the city during floods.
“We have started working on a war-footing basis. Light and drinking water has been restored,” Rather says, who outrightly denied “fleeing” the hospital. “The loss is enormous. Most of our equipment and costly infrastructure was in the ground floor. It will take us three-four days more to finish up the cleaning and dewatering of the ground floor.”
The hospital has got an emergency relief amount of 10 lakh rupees from Medical Colleges association for maintaining a stock of medicines and essential supplies.
After a complete paralysis of state administration in the initial days of floods, a basic health clinic for the children was set up at the Kashmir Nursing Home and a small maternity hospital at flood unaffected Sanat Nagar was opened.
While SKIMS Soura and JLNM Rainawari were the only two major hospitals left untouched by the floods, the number of patients ballooned, prompting the hospital administration on September 16 to ask doctors of SKIMS Medical College Hospital to report immediately. On average SKIMS attends 50 emergency case patients per day, in floods, the number rose up to 130 a day.
Bone and Joint Hospital Barzulla was the first hospital to be hit by floods on September 6. It was the first to restore in full. Though floods seeped into the ground floor of the hospital, there was no major loss to the hospital machinery and pieces of equipment. “We are completely functional now and are catering to the rush of other hospitals also,” informs Dr Shabir Ahmad, Medical Superintendent of the hospital.
The estimated loss is of few lakh rupees, besides the floor of OPD building has sunk in, Dr Shabir says. “Our team and staff are working round the clock to ensure proper medication in this time of crisis.”
Even though water level had receded a week before muck and dirt still carpeted the hospital premises.
At SKIMS hospital, Bemina, scores of men from J&K police are assisting the hospital staff in washing off the dirt and grime brought by the floodwater. Like every other major hospital, JVC also has thrown open its OPD block which is operating from the second floor since September 17. The average of 1500 patients visiting the hospital daily has gone down to 300 patients per day.
Dozens of sweepers and volunteers are mopping up the hospital floor of the ground floor which remained submerged under six feet water for ten days. Three X-ray machines, a Photostat machine, two minor Ophthalmology machines, three generators, general medicine store and medical records were destroyed by the floodwaters.
When the floods came, the hospital shifted around 300 admitted patients to SKIMS Soura. The students at the Government Medical College, Bemina, were shifted to a private hotel in Indira Nagar first, but when the area was also run over by waters, the students were evacuated to another hostel.
“We will be operating In-Patients Department (IPD) by Monday or Tuesday,” says Dr Aijaz Mustafa, Medical Superintendent, SKIMS Bemina. “Our estimated loss is about 1.5 crore and we have directed all the departments to assess the loss and compile that. We will then forward that list to the government. For now, we have utilized emergency funds to purchase essential medicines and have acquired some drugs from NGOs working in the city.”
Behind the hospital, in Medical College, dozens of microscopes, tables, research equipment and other tools are spread over the lawn to dry in sun. Since last few days, dewatering of the premises is in full swing but the water still remains.
Director Health Services Kashmir, Dr Saleem U Rehman, under whose jurisdiction falls all the district and sub-district hospitals, says the hospitals are working to 70 per cent of their capacity. The floods had hit two district hospitals in Srinagar and Budgam – Gousia Hospital Khanyar and district hospital Magam – damaging X-ray machines and hospital equipment. “We have restored our services, besides our local staff and doctors from New Delhi are helping us out to deliver,” he says.
The department has also established an emergency control room at Barzulla for managing and coordinating medical aid to the patients. According to Rehman, patient inflow from Budgam, Pampore, Ganderbal, Chadoora and Pulwama is being managed at district and sub-district hospitals.
In order to tackle the health crisis in the valley, the state health department had sought at least 300 paramedical staff from central government, which the centre had agreed immediately.
As the waters have receded, carcasses of animals and decomposed food items floating on the roads of Srinagar has led to the apprehensions of the disease outbreak. Many fear that after floods, it might be a deadly disease like Cholera or Hepatitis now waiting for Kashmiris.
On September 22, the state health department declared still-submerged areas vulnerable for outbreak of various water-borne diseases including Typhoid, Measles, rabies, respiratory and diarrheal infections. The declaration includes all the localities and outskirts of Srinagar city which were hit by the flood.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and the department is closely studying each and every case. We do not rule out the possibility of disease outbreak and that is why we are extra cautious,” Director, Health Services, Kashmir, Dr Saleem U Rehman says. “We have issued some advisories to the people of flood-hit areas by which we are sensitizing them about the proper process of cleaning and dewatering their houses before start living in them.”
Dr Saleem says only the effective sanitization and proper drainage can help in reducing the chances of an outbreak.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday afternoon, a doctor volunteering at a relief camp was finally dispatched to attend Javid’s mother at Ikhrajpora.