Srinagar: In north-Kashmir's Bandipora district, ten-year-old Amjad Qasim (name changed) has been suffering from a severe headache. He has been waiting for a scheduled surgery for three days now, but no doctor had even come close to him after he tested positive for COVID-19, he said.
When he woke up on Thursday morning, there was no water supply at the hospital. Amjad had not even got his breakfast tea when it was already time for lunch.
"I have an intense headache and have developed pus, but no doctor has attended to me for the last three days," Amjad told NewsClick.
Imran's (name changed) 13-year-old son is also under quarantine at the Bandipura District Hospital with the rest of his family. He said that since there was no water, his nephew, who is also under observation, was planning on leaving the hospital premises to bring water, so they could at least wash their faces. However, Imran advised him against doing so and finally called the authorities for help.
Imran said that the residents of society were now mulling over whether they should send their family members to the hospital for quarantine, if any of them test positive for COVID-19.
“Based on what my family and others, including children, have faced at the hospital, I think it is better to stay away from these quarantine facilities. I request the authorities to allow those who had tested positive to be home quarantined, instead of them being abandoned at the hospital," Imran told NewsClick.
Close to three months have passed since Jammu and Kashmir reported its first case of COVID-19. Since then, the number of cases has crossed 4,500 and over 50 persons have died due to the novel coronavirus. The Kashmir Valley has witnessed a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases this week, with reports mentioning that the region has already reached the stage of community transmission.
And insensitivity is not local to the Bandipora hospital. Even after months of preparation, state authorities have been accused of mishandling the COVID-19 crisis and similar cases of medical negligence have been seen in almost every hospital.
The UT administration is confident of their past record and future plans for handling the situation, but many are in doubt over their response, and like Bandipora’s locals, they have decided not to pin their hopes on the government. It comes at a time when the healthcare professionals are predicting that the number of cases will not come down anytime soon, and that the UT is yet to witness a peak.
In addition to its questionable handling of the crisis, the government's quarantine plan has also been called contentious. Echoing Imran's feelings, healthcare experts have said that there is no need to subject asymptomatic patients – who constitute nearly 90% of the total number of cases – to institutional quarantine facilities, a move which the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) guidelines also suggests.
However, Pandurang K. Pole, Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, said that the response to the novel coronavirus is not universal, varying from country to country and even within the states. “Irrespective of common guidelines of ICMR, every state wants to provide their best response. We are not in the state where we can decide that positive cases can be asked to stay home. Its a dynamic and evolving situation," Pole told NewsClick.
Despite the increase in the number of cases over the past week, the Divisional Commissioner said that their “protocol is evolving and the situation is still not dire.”
The senior official said that the administration is continuously assessing the situation, based on the administration's own estimates, and are equipped to handle five times the current number of active cases in the region at institutional quarantine centres.
The administration had ordered an enquiry into the first death due to COVID-19 in the state in March. The deceased was a 65-year-old male from Srinagar, and there were reports that said his case had been mishandled.
Since then, the number of mishandled cases have only increased across the valley. There has been a spike in the number of pregnant women contracting the virus, and at least two of them have died in south-Kashmir's Anantnag district, after they were faced with a delayed response from the hospital management. As of now, there are over 70 such active cases, and more than 230 pregnant women have contracted the infection so far.
While locals have alleged medical negligence and consistent mismanagement, Pole told NewsClick that the administration is setting up a separate hospital for pregnant women who have contracted COVID-19, to stop further risks to expecting mothers.
"Since we are now testing more people, there is an increase in the number of cases of pregnant women. We are setting up a COVID-19 hospital in every district within a week that will deal with pregnant women only. In the case of districts where it is not possible, we will have one hospital for two districts," Pole said.
The official said the administration has asked for a report, seeking information regarding cases of mismanagement, and put a mechanism in place for its verification. "We are working on it internally to make sure that we are on right track. But, so far, we have not found any intentional mistakes in Anantnag. The situation is dynamic and mistakes are happening as a result. Our aim for the enquiries was not to punish, but understand what happened and make amends," Pole said.
However, as of now, the ordeal of Amjad and his family is a sneak-peak into the larger crisis that Kashmir is faced with during the pandemic.