Keeping The Commitment

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In a remote village in Anantnag, a doctor is working among nomads to help them face up to pandemic, reports Umar Khurshid

A number of  patients waiting for their turn for the doctor in remote south Kashmir. KL Image: Umar Khurshid

Amid the Coronavirus triggered a crisis, when everyone seeks refuge from the novel virus, by staying indoors, a doctor in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district treks up to the nomadic areas of Pahalgam to help those seeking medical attention. His frequent travels help the population stay put and avoid moving out of their remote belts unless it is hugely necessary.

Serving as in-charge Medical Officer at Primary Health Centre Overa Zone, block Sallar in Pahalgam, Dr Aijaz Hussain Bhat, 42, is providing nomads medical care free of cost and educating them about the precautions they need to take to safeguard against Coronavirus.

“These people have no clue about the Coronavirus,” Dr Bhat said. “Keeping in view the pandemic, I advise them to follow social distancing, hygiene and other precautions.”

In May 2019, when Dr Bhat joined PHC as in-charge Medical Officer, he was happy to join the facility surrounded by greenish, beautiful landscape. But the area is backward. This was the time he promised himself that he will help these people at least on the front he knows better – the health services. With the arrival of Coronavirus in Kashmir and Anantnag in particular, Dr Bhat decided to prepare the people in the area to face the pandemic.

In April, Dr Bhat, along with two a community health worker (ASHA workers), and two male staff members from Overa Zone boarded an ambulance and drove towards the nearby forest area where nomadic families live. The first thing he did was to get in touch with the village head and offer medical assistance to the poor and needy. After the consent from Sarpanch and Deputy Sarpanch, the team of doctors began sanitizing the places where people usually gather. “The process continued for days,” said Dr Bhat, a contract based doctor appointed through NHRM. The exercise, he said, was started at Nallah-e-Overa was to be followed in other areas of the zone like Virseran, Dehwatoo and Movera.  The population of the zone is 6,396 in all the households.

According to the doctor, the helping hand is being offered to only nomadic families keeping in view their financial constraints. “In these areas, poverty is such that a patient cannot afford Rs 10 at times,” the doctor said requesting the government to provide facilities that the hospital lacks. The team of doctors also distributed around one thousand face masks among the residents.

The doctor after finishing his office visits the remote belt to check if anybody needs his help. KL Image: Umar Khurshid

Mohammad Rafiq, 35, the village head said that residents live a hand to mouth existence and have no knowledge of pandemic and lockdown. “Dr Bhat has helped educate people about the deadly virus,” Rafiq said.

In part because of the efforts of Dr Bhat, the area has not witnessed any positive Covid-19 case yet. “In my jurisdiction, there were only two people with outside travel history. They were subsequently sent for the test to Government Medical College Anantnag and then quarantined,” he said.

Dr Bhat said their team has screened 350 residents with symptoms like cough and cold.

“The challenge has doubled these days,” he said. “Being negative for Covid-19 doesn’t mean everything is fine. Patients still have their old problems like skin issues, stomach problems, simple headaches, joint pains etc”.

Dr Bhat not only reaches the residents in day hours, he spends his extra hours in order to help address the medical problems of the residents. “After 4:00 pm, after spending the day in office, I either see the patients at the facility or to trek up to see them at their home only,” he said.

When asked why did he chose to help the community by reaching  their doorsteps, Dr Bhat said for all the medicos all around the globe, being a doctor is not enough.“It is more than just a job,” he said. The doctor said residents suffering from diseases other than Covid-19 are finding it difficult to connect with doctors at main town Anantnag, because of the severe restrictions on movement, particularly those of vehicles. “Many patients who were supposed to get their test for chest and other problems are not able to move out,” he said. Dr Bhat said he has also given his phone number to the village head in case of any medical emergency in the area.

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