As the Covid-19 unleashes its carpet-bomb-morbidity in Kashmir, hundreds of individuals and groups have redoubled their efforts to restrict the possibly colossal costs. They are doing anything and everything and supplementing the efforts of the government as well. Right now, Oxygen and food retains the top slots, reports Khalid Bashir Gura
As the second wave of Covid-19, now being referred to as Covid19-2.0, rages through Kashmir, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO), frontline workers, and volunteers on the ground are gearing up once again to tackle the visibly disastrous consequences. Driven by community concern and lived experiences of crisis management, a number of these groups are providing people oxygen concentrators, cylinders, personal protection equipment (PPE) kits, and ambulance services. Some individuals, small groups have also joined the effort.
At times, even managing well-cooked, nutritious food to the families affiliated with the contagion is being managed by some of these groups.
Unlike 2020, the battle this year is challenging. In the second wave, as the mutant virus proliferates much faster it is straining the public health infrastructure and resources. Hospitals in Kashmir and in Jammu have already reported that they are running out of beds. Now, the administration is adding new transit spaces but Oxygen is key to all this.
Knock At The Door
On April 21, Faisal Ahmad, 24, a resident of Pampore’s Frestabal was desperately searching for an oxygen concentrator as his father, 56, who had turned Covid-19 positive on the same day, had his oxygen saturation dipping dangerously. According to doctors, Ahmad said, his father’s condition was stable and before discharging him from the hospital doctors advised home isolation for him. They also asked him to arrange an oxygen concentrator.
Once home, frantic, helpless, young Ahmad started his search for scarce oxygen concentrator and soon came to know about the NGO Help Together Foundation, which lends them for free. Within a couple of minutes, a volunteer knocked on his door and gave him the equipment and trained him to use it.
Young Ahmad shouldered the responsibility to serve his father and help him as he did not want other family members to contract the infection. But soon symptoms began to show up and after getting himself tested he was also diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and admitted to SKIMS JVC, Bemina and put on oxygen support. This time it was his cousin who accompanied him to the hospital. But he recuperated soon and was discharged.
“I have lost almost 8 kgs in just two weeks after contracting the virus,” Ahmad. Tragically the machine given by the NGO is still with them and it is free of cost.
Help Together Foundation with 25 volunteers, most of them young has been serving society long before the pandemic, driven by the desire to uplift marginalized section of society by providing healthcare, education and livelihood. Even during previous lockdowns and crises when health was not a priority, the organisation helped the vulnerable and destitute by sponsoring their monthly food rations and financial aid.
But when the pandemic returned to Kashmir, the group started collecting funds for procuring oxygen concentrators, cylinders and other medical equipment. Funded generously by people, its volunteers started to deliver services free of cost and worked day and night to address the distress calls.
“We are running out of resources now as cases are rising,” Dawood Baba, 35, one of the volunteers said. “There are many projects in the pipeline like setting up OPD for poor people, setting up of dialysis centre. We also started an initiative of providing free food to Covid-19 affected families”.
Amid the raging contagion, the scarcity of precious resources is adding to the crisis. The prices of oxygen concentrators have also surged given the increasing demand. Earlier the concentrators cost around Rs 40000 but now the prices have skyrocketed. “Presently we have 18 oxygen concentrators,” Baba said.
The SRO Kashmir
In Srinagar, a weeping teenage boy calls one of the NGOs and informs that he is facing the struggle to procure oxygen cylinders in one of the hospitals in Kashmir. His father’s saturation dips as he needs 15LPM oxygen but the hospital has oxygen cylinders that last few hours. He begs an NGO for help in the middle of the night, said the volunteers.
At such odd times and during such challenging situations, there are quite a few addresses in Kashmir. The most respected is that of the Social Reforms Organization (SRO) Kashmir.
When the pandemic hit Kashmir, the SRO team knew that it may get prolonged given the devastation it has caused in the rest of the world. They soon created a Facebook page, Coronavirus Watch JK, a group of civil society members created with an intention to create awareness. But considering the distress calls from the people, the group started addressing these issues on the ground. They soon tied up with SRO Batmaloo and started collecting funds. After providing ration kits to hundreds of families, they turned their attention to the pandemic. They soon started a project: Oxygen Kashmir.
To ensure uninterrupted oxygen supply they soon procured 60 oxygen concentrators and 50 oxygen cylinders after being mentored by experts in the Valley and abroad.
Mohammed Afaaq Sayeed, Project Director Oxygen Kashmir and Social Reforms Organization (SRO) said, they are equipped with 220 oxygen concentrators, 275 oxygen cylinders, both medium and bulk, which can deliver up to 25 litres per minute of oxygen. They have also procured portable aluminium oxygen cylinders, which have 3500 litters of oxygen and have installed oxygen high flow metres costing around Rs 5000 each.
As demand rose, it got 35 BiPAP and CPAP machines and four ambulances, which are used to ferry patients to and from hospitals. The organisation has already distributed hundreds of PPE Kits, thousands of masks and rendered other social services to help people survive.
“Last year the demand was low, the rate of the spread of infection was less but this year it is challenging as we are seeing whole families getting infected,” Afaaq said, insisting that in 2020 when helpline service was started they used to get 10-15 calls daily and most of these for medicine but this year it is more than 150 distress calls a day just for oxygen alone.
When Zahoor Ahmed Beigh, a resident of Srinagar, needed oxygen for his two close relatives – mother-in-law and maternal uncle, the place to go was Madad Charitable Trust, Lalbazar.
The trust, which was formed more than a decade ago, has almost 30 volunteers. It has helped people during floods in rescue and rehabilitation, said Zahoor ul- Haq, one of the group members. Initially formed with the intention to help the destitute and empower the underprivileged, it soon had to confront other challenges like Kashmir shutdown, which resulted in the loss of livelihood of vulnerable sections of the population.
The trust started distributing monthly ration kits to hundreds of families. The trust also sponsors education, marriage funds, and medical aid to the needy. When the pandemic hit Kashmir, the organisation started procuring oxygen concentrators and cylinders and other medical equipment.
“Lately what we saw happening in Delhi and in other states, we ordered 20 more oxygen concentrators each costing around Rs 50000,” he said. Right now all the 34 oxygen concentrators and 62 oxygen cylinders are already with the patients.
As the number of NGOs has been a source of hope and succour in times of crisis, Help Poor Voluntary Trust, founded in 1998 with an aim to provide medical care and aid to needy people is also one among them. With hundreds of volunteers and around 60 employees, the organisation works on preventive and curative projects.
“More than 1200 under-privileged patients are registered with us who are provided medicine free of cost for the controllable diseases. The aggregate monthly costs of providing free medicine costs around Rs 17-20 lakhs,” said Farooq Ahmed Bhat, founder and chairman. They have 12 ambulances, which help in ferrying patients to other districts also.
To help the general public and mitigate their suffering, the trust has set up pharmacies at many places where they provide medicine at discounted rates. Besides, it has also deployed its volunteers in hospitals to help the patients and attendees.
“Anyone can call us to avail ambulance service at any time especially in times of lockdown,” Bhat said. “Almost 60 oxygen concentrators are with patients. For the patients who are unattended or need assistance in hospitals amid raging coronavirus, the organisation has deployed numbers of its volunteers in the hospitals and in the field.”
One of the senior volunteers and member of Help Poor Voluntary attending the patient in the hospital is Mohammad Ali Lone, 59.
“Our volunteers work 24×7,” he said. To ensure the dignity of the dead, lately, they have introduced dead body carrier vehicle from hospitals to the home. Besides, 150 oxygen cylinders, 64 oxygen cylinders and BiPAP and CPAP of the NGO are currently with patients.
“This time our challenges vary as previously we used to cater to bullet injuries but now it is people gasping for breath,” Lone said.
But according to most of the NGO heads, the problem they are facing is that people want to hoard the oxygen concentrators, cylinders, as they are apprehensive. They are, therefore, facing problems with retrieving the machines from people. So before giving away a concentrator, they ask for the prescription to ensure the flow of oxygen, and allocation of machines to deserving and desperate. This has to be recommended by a doctor in black and white.
“If the oxygen need is above 15 hours, only then can we hand over the oxygen machines. Those who have a need of a few hours can be managed with cylinders,” said the volunteers of the NGOs.
To ensure better organization and efficiency in the allocation of resources in the ongoing crisis, the NGOs are mulling the development of a software wherein all NGOs could come together and keep track of beneficiaries and machines so that resources are allocated efficiently and the process becomes transparent. It will also help to cater to demand and supply.
The NGO’s have been receiving financial support from the common people through social media appeals and donors.
Another NGO, Ehsaas International, said that this time they are working on two main projects: One is oxygen therapy where they provide oxygen concentrators to patients and the second is helping people with a free consultation on the phone with doctors.
“We have enlisted 350 Kashmiri doctors from abroad who work to help patients and remain available 24×7,” said the coordinator of the programme who wished to stay anonymous.
Hakim Mohammad Ilyas, a representative of the NGO, said they have procured 50 oxygen concentrators and ordered another 150. Also in collaboration with the SMC, the centre will be setting up three wellness centres (50 beds in each centre) in Srinagar for Covid patients with each attached to JLNM, CD hospital, and SKIMS.
The Father Charity
Another NGO Athrout (hand-holding) has been working tirelessly for many years during earthquakes, floods, political disturbances and pandemic. It is helping the underprivileged in education, health and empowerment. It also has a dialysis unit where the poor are offered free treatments and pharmacies, which give medicine at discounted rates.
According to its chairman, Bashir Ahmad Nadwi, before the pandemic, they had almost 200 oxygen concentrator machines for COPD patients but as the pandemic overtook every other thing, the organization was advised by experts to procure more.
“Now we have 350, 40 auto BiBap, Cpap medical equipment, 300 oximeters, and four ambulances out of which two have been dedicated specifically to Covid-19 patients,” Nadwi said. “They have also been distributing masks, PPE kits and medicines to the needy.”
Lately, as the Covid-19 cases are spiking, the NGO in collaboration with district administration, set up 100–bed Covid facility at the Haj house building in a record 72 hours.
According to Nadwi, they do not want beds to be occupied but given the devastation caused by the virus in other states of India, we do not want to be complacent and let people die on roads.
“In the tidy halls we have ensured, there will be high flow oxygen beds with 15 to 20-LPM and 75 beds with 5LPM and 10 LPM have been kept ready to decrease the rush in hospitals,” Nadwi said. “We have ordered 150 oxygen concentrators more”.
One of the oldest charities of Kashmir, the Foundation that usually has been managing the load of the conflict, has gone into the pandemic management quickly. “We procured 40 Oxygen concentrators and distributed them among the neediest o basis of medical requirement,” Javed Javad, one of its executives said. “We also 40 Oxygen cylinders of which 10 were given on loan to district administration Bandipore on request and the rest are with the needy.”
Javad said their routine activity is normally going on. “We have deployed both our ambulances in managing the movement of the non-Covid-19 patients,” he said. “We continue supporting 1400 families with monthly Rs 1400. They are verified, vulnerable families.”
KARVAN (Kashmir Association for Research and Voluntary Action Network) was created during the 2020 pandemic, to ensure the smooth and organized functioning of various NGOs and Baitulmaals in Kashmir. The amalgamation brought more than 100 Baitulmaals under it to make sure they cater to cases that are local. It was also formed to support the financially weaker trusts, which may have cases of beneficiaries but are financially limited. The group tackles cases of medical, marriage assistance, education, rehabilitation to other financial aid besides empowering individuals.
“By doing this, the relief work got streamlined to some extent and beneficiaries received help in a short span of time. At the same time duplication cases were addressed and exploiters were identified,” said the coordinator, Khalid Hussain Wani.
In 2020 pandemic triggered lockdown, Hayat Manan, 28 a resident of Srinagar, was in Delhi when he contracted the virus. He had no caretaker. But soon an unexpected knock from a Kashmiri neighbour in a flat offered to serve him food at his door. The gesture brought the two closer than before.
A year later, Hayat Manan finds himself serving the family of the friend as they all have been detected positive. “I bring them all the groceries from the market and whatever they need as they cannot venture out,” he said.
Saifullah Bashir was helpless when his whole family was detected as positive. Worried Saif was clueless as to who will cook and serve and soon friend suggested to him to ring a one-year-old start-up, The Tiffin Aaw, which delivers homemade food to Covid-19 affected families at home and in hospitals.
“I was embarrassed when they ended up knocking on my door and giving food for free,” he said.
According to Rayees Ahmad Dar, the founder of Tiffin Aaw, the pandemic has rendered everyone helpless. They try to serve food to Covid-19 affected people in hospitals and homes.
“We catered almost 350 orders a day and some people donate us to keep the process of serving and sponsoring food for the needy going,” Dar said.
Similarly, Manzoor Laway, a teacher, posted at Government Primary School, Kulgam, is at the forefront of providing meals to the people lodged in various hospitals and quarantine centres in the district. He is also at the forefront of creating awareness regarding adhering to SOPs and Covid-19 appropriate behaviour.
“I have been reaching out to the people lodged in various quarantine centres with meals and so far I have provided meals to at least 300 people,” Laway said. He also ensures Covid-19 sample collections from the Covid-19 patients besides ensuring availability of oxygen demand.
In south Kashmir’s Anantnag, Dr Rashid Rasheed, 37, and his team ensure round clock phone consultations and door to door consultation in case of emergency. According to the doctor by reaching out to people he satisfies his conscience.
“I assess symptoms and accordingly refer them to hospitals or prescribe medications,” Dr Rashid said. “But what has moved the locals is the personal accessibility beyond working hours and personally visiting critical patients’ homes.”
Laying To Rest
Sajad Ahmad Khan, 39, with a group of volunteers took the initiative to bury the dead and give them a dignified burial. A year later as social stigmatization surrounding the virus has reduced, he gets fewer calls for burials. His burial activity is now limited to people who are abandoned. This year, his Facebook page, Athwaas, receives SOS calls for oxygen concentrator and cylinder, PPE kits, ambulances and food to Covid-19 affected families.
In June 2020, as the Covid-19 lockdown rendered many jobless and impacted the livelihood of many, few friends who are students started a WhatsApp group wherein they asked members to contribute a minimum of Rs 100. According to one of its volunteers, for the first month, they were just able to raise Rs 3225 and with this meagre money started supporting 2 to 3 families with very basic essentials in the monthly ration kit. Almost a year later as more students joined, the group’s budget expanded and it started to adopt more families.
“We were able to adopt 11 families now and we have also added more to our monthly kits. This month the group raised Rs 40,000,” said one of the pioneer volunteer. “The smiles of the underprivileged and their prayers give us peace”.