Heavy snowfall in Kashmir in the past two days has badly hit the delivery of health services as hospitals across the Valley grappled with breakdown of essential services while patients struggled to reach the health facilities due to closure of roads.
On Thursday morning, a pregnant woman from Balpora area in southern Shopian district was evacuated to the district hospital on a snow clearance machine, an official source said.
He said up to the point where the machine stationed, the woman’s relatives carried her on foot from her home, the official said.
Reports of patients being carried on shoulders or charpoys came in from various parts of Kashmir as most roads, especially in higher reaches, remained closed.
At Baramulla, a health administrator had to seek help from the district administration to evacuate an emergency patient during the wee hours from Goriwan village to the district hospital. The administrator said an ambulance had been sent for the patient but it could not move beyond a point near the village due to heavy accumulation of snow.
“Thankfully, two snow clearance machines cleared part of the road to enable the patient to be ferried in a vehicle,” chief medical officer Baramulla said.
In absence of a helpline, patients in most Kashmir areas could not send emergency calls to the health department. Due to snow-covered roads, while public transport remained suspended, patients had no means to call for emergency response.
Mushtaq Ahmed Najar from Chowkibal Kupwara—father of a 10-year-old child suffering from high-grade fever and convulsions—said he had to trek 10-km-long stretch with his ailing son on his back to reach a road from where a vehicle was able to ply.
“We waited for half a day till a beacon vehicle helped us reach Kupwara hospital,” he told Greater Kashmir over phone.
A doctor working in a peripheral hospital said though the directorate of health services would set up a helpline during inclement weather conditions, no such step was taken this year.
“Even so many doctors could not reach hospitals because of the weather vagaries and no one was available to redress their issues,” he said.
Director health services Kashmir Dr Kunzes Dolma acknowledged that emergency contact numbers had not been made public.
“People already know healthcare centers in their areas. Ambulances were available at all districts and locals could get in touch with the hospitals in case of any emergency. Our system is geared up,” she claimed.
At many hospitals, power breakdown created difficulties for patients and administration, especially in district hospital Shopian where power lines were snapped Wednesday and had not been restored until this report was filed.
Medical superintendent of the hospital said generators had been pressed into service and adequate staff was present.
In health centers of Kupwara, Baramulla, Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian and others, footfall of patients was reported to be minimal as patients could not reach hospitals.
Meanwhile, Sher-e-Kashmir institute of medical sciences (SKIMS) issued a helpline to transport critically-ill patients to hospitals within the Srinagar municipal limits. It asked people to avail the service by contacting SKIMS exchange on 2401013 (extension numbers 2321 and 2322).
“Mobile phone numbers 9070008692, 9419081129, 7006157150 and 2403679 have also been kept available to seek emergency ambulance service for critical patients,” a SKIMS spokesman said.