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Why Is It Vital To Invest In Shopian Hospital And Upgrade The Infra, Quickly?

SRINAGAR: The clamour in Pir Panchal valley over the early reopening of the Mughal Road has clear desperation – medical emergencies.

This is the Poonch side of the breathtaking Mughal Road as captured from Pir Ki Gali. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

As the cries for re-opening got shriller, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha announced that the road will be open for fruit trucks and Gujjar and Bakerwals, who moved their herds for their summer sojourn to Kashmir, early spring. There was a rider; those using the road will have to seek permission from the Divisional Commissioner in Jammu.

It triggered quite a response on Twitter itself. Appreciating the announcement, the response was more about why the road is not being permitted to be used as a road. This, during the peak of the pandemic, is hugely required for medical emergencies.

The District Development Commissioner (DDC) Shopian, Sachin Kumar Vaishya paid a surprise visit to District Hospital Shopian on March 20, 2021

Ideally, the response suggested, the people should not require making a movement for opening a road that is fundamentally for their use. But the Mughal Road that connects Kashmir with Poonch and Rajouri – the two districts that make Pir Panchal Valley – has emerged sort of a border road in the last two years, the response said. Its only utility was its short distance. In the last two years, this is precisely what has been converted into its chief demerit. In peak summer, it takes more time than one consumes to reach Srinagar via Jammu.

The people also pointed out three things – it is no season for trucks and business. The Gujjar Bakerwal would otherwise move and have already moved. They had been living with the migration for centuries and hardly require a road. They also pointed out why should they move with permission to be issued by the Divisional Commissioner Jammu?

This photograph that appeared in Jammu based newspaper Daily Excelsior shows a group of workers from Rajouri and Poonch trekking the snow-clad Mughal Road to reach home from Srinagar. Since the main highway was closed by the lockdown, they preferred trekking the 80 km distance on foot on March 31. More than 90 persons undertook risky travel to reach home in late March 2020.

“We welcome the decision of the Government and appreciate it. However, the decision seems to have been taken half-heartedly without considering the difficulties of the people faced in Pir Panjal because of the closing of the highway and opening it with certain conditions,” Zulfikar Ali, former minister and many time lawmaker said in a statement on May 16. “Most of the patients from Pir Panjal prefer treatment at Srinagar’s hospitals.”

Zulfiqar demanded that Mughal Road should be made an all-weather road. It is an important road to Kashmir via Poonch District’s Bafliaz area. He asked another interesting question: “When all other such roads viz Srinagar, Ladakh, Gurez and Sinthan Top are already opened, why not Mughal Road? The Government must fix the responsibility of the officers who failed to ensure the clearance of the road till now.”

Historic Aliabad Sarai on Mughal Road – Photo: Shams Irfan

The key border belt’s desperation is dictated by Covid19. The two districts are mourning the loss of 208 people – 142 in Rajouri and 66 in Poonch, as 4792 people are currently active Covid19 patients, most of them, 3419 in Rajouri alone. This makes the region the only belt with so many cases and so much human loss outside the capital city of Jammu in the Jammu region. On a single day, it lost three doctors to Covid19.

The region has a total of 252-isolation beds including 12 ICUs. Official data suggested that part of the strength is still vacant.

But the region is desperate to have access to the Kashmir healthcare system. Reaching Kashmir means only less than half of the time that travelling takes from the region to reach Jammu.

Snow clearance work on historic Mughal Road, a 2018 photograph

So far, the government response to the demand is where the Lt Governor has started. The district administration in Poonch has started the process of implementing the order and roles and responsibilities have been given to subordinate officers for managing the movement of fruit-laden trucks and the Gujjar and Bakerwals.

Eventually, the government may open the road for the movement of patients also. It seems unlikely right now. But before that, the government will have to ensure that if people wish to move to Kashmir for treatment, they should have the required facilities available.

Once the people cross the Pir Ki Gali and get into Kashmir, the first major town with some facility is the Shopian town. Though Shopian has almost the same public infrastructure that Poonch has (Rajouri has better than this), there is a possibility of creating the required infra quickly and manage part of the cases that move from the Pir Panchal Valley.

Shopian is one of the smaller districts which the government said is perhaps the only place where most of the 45-plus age group stands inoculated against Covid19. Fortunately, so far the district has managed to survive with the least infection. So far the district has lost 47 of its citizens as it is managing 1138 active cases, right now.

The district hospital at Shopian has 100-beds but two buildings. It can add up to 100-beds overnight but the government will have to see if it has enough oxygen available. The skilled staff can be hired overnight. In desperation, any social group in Kashmir can lend part of its staff as a staff gap arrangement.

Officially, the hospital may have been projecting an image of being a major facility, but there are crippling issues within. Insiders said that a 1000-LPM oxygen generation plant is quite inadequate for a 100-bedded hospital. The ventilators require quick service because some of them lack proper connectivity with the supply systems within. “We have 200 cubic meters of Oxygen available but the requirement is 642 cubic meter,” one insider said. “We have 59 bulk cylinders and 20 of them cannot be used because the operation theatre always has to have something in stock.”

Another major issue that the hospital faces is the shortage of staff. Most of the staff has already been stung by the Covid19. Staffers give long duty hours and it exposes them to the virus. The hospital administration and the district administration will have to seriously go for a quick audit of everything before the chinks in the armour get visible.

Not every Covid19 patient from Rajouri and Poonch would be coming to Kashmir for treatment. It will just be a very small fraction of the serious cases, if at all the government feels compelled by the situation. But anybody who wishes to do so has to pass through at least two hours of high-altitude, oxygen-deplete heights. So they would require some kind of stabilisation from Shopian itself.

Get ready, before it gets tougher to handle.

Mughal Road In Pandemic

Right now, the government has sent a team of doctors to the region. A spokesman of the government said late last night that under the direction of Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha, a team comprising senior officials and doctors will visit Poonch and Rajouri on May 19, 2021, in order to assess the Covid containment activities there, the status of treatment for Covid positive patients and status of Covid Care Centres. Transport Commissioner of Jammu and Kashmir government Hirdesh Kumar will head the team that will have  “senior medical personnel onboard” to “assess any specific local issues in these two districts including those concerning migrating Gujjars & Bakerwals”.

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