Kashmir's Corona Warriors brave the testing times

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The COVID19 pandemic that consumed major part of this year had a positive side: People, individuals and groups, as the testing times demanded, came up with a never before kind of response with Corona Warriors emerging from every sphere of the society.

In March, when the image of a Tangmarg man being buried on the precipice of a hillock hit the blue screens in Kashmir, there was scare all around. He had died due to COVID19 days after J&K reported its first case, and his family had to wander around with the body for burial before finally settling down for the secluded place.

One after another, the bodies awaited burial as graveyards became inaccessible for the COVID19 fatalities. The fear of “spread of highly contagious coronavirus infection” from the dead bodies caused immense social and physical hardships for the families and continues to be so.

However, amidst this boycott and denial of proper burial, a group of volunteers emerged in down town Srinagar to help families of the victims and take over the responsibility of the burial.

The volunteers often had to pursue the tough task of negotiating a proper burial place and rituals for the deceased when people living in the vicinity objected to the body being lowered into the ground there. “Their job continues,” a health official involved in enumeration of the casualties said.

Local initiatives did not confine to burials alone. Many NGOs, one of them majorly, has been helping people severely sick with COVID19 survive. With a well-equipped oxygen bank, concentrators and other devices, the NGO has been keeping its doors open round the clock. A senior physician working at SMHS hospital said that many of the severe cases were not admitted in hospitals by the families owing to the hardships the patients had to undergo at the facilities in isolation. “The NGO would provide oxygen cylinders and facemasks,” said the doctor.

There is yet another NGO fervently working towards ensuring medicines, ambulances and other help that the sick and their families required at the hospitals.  However, treatment at the hospitals has been majorly run by resident staff during the pandemic. Most often, the number of staff members was not in proportion with the requirement of the doctors hence expanding the rosters into longer hours and shorter quarantine periods.

At Chest Disease Hospital, a handful of resident doctors played a pivotal role in ensuring wellness of a number of patients. The hospital is a single specialty one with limited staff, but became the peg of COVID19 in Kashmir. Many people who were admitted there and were cured have shared stories of the saviours in heavy PPE whom they recognized from their voices. “They gave much more than what their job demanded. They gave us a hope,” said one of the survivors who was admitted at the hospital in June.

Although most of the out-patient services stopped operating, the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS) appreciated that the lockdown had escalated the need for mental health services in Kashmir.

The doctors and the staff put their heads together to keep the services operational and used tele-psychiatry and an innovative roster system to reach patients and keep the admitted ones safe from infection. As a result, although the IMHANS doctors have nearly 60 percent sero-prevalance, the sero-prevalence among patients, confirmed with RT-PCR is just 1 percent.

The microbiologists that made it possible to test and report cases, a senior heath official said, could not take a single day off for four months. He said the contact tracing teams were tasked to identify at least 15 contacts of every confirmed case and often had to face angry relatives and families on their job.

All of these warriors fought on while they were aware of the risk they posed to their families back home, yet, did not shy away from the duties and responsibilities.

A senior administrator at a tertiary care Srinagar hospital said that the pandemic is far from over but these initiatives had shown that Kashmir will not let it tear the fabric of social service apart. “Our corona warriors are part of this fabric,” he said.