I was three years old when my father was first posted in Kupwara. In 1971 as a newly appointed medical officer in the health department he arrived in this small town, in Baramulla District.
I vividly remember our first visit accompanying him. A few shops: barber, cloth merchant, chemist, grocery stores and a stationery.
It was an unassuming town of a few tongas, fewer vehicles, and some people. The marketplace ended even before it started.
All shops would close by late afternoon and the place to an early sleep. Public transport system was scant. The norm was once a day or overnight stay.
From 1971 to 1977 Dad remained posted in Kupwara. We would visit every winter and during the summer holidays. Friendships and memories started. Then, he got transferred to Gulmarg. In 1979 he returned.
This time the stay was all the way to his attaining superannuation from government services in April of 2000.
For 21 years Dr. Abdul Rashid Bhat served as a Medical Officer, Block Medical officer, District Health Officer and Chief Medical Officer in the same District.
He loved his work and the people. They took his dedication, sincerity, hard work and service to their hearts. We proudly became Kupwarians for life.
Since 2000 he continues to stay on, practising in a single room clinic next to the District Hospital. To this day both my parents stay in Kupwara 28 days a month. They visit Srinagar for 2 days to be with us.
A small “journey” for the last five decades and counting, makes my understanding of the healthcare in rural Kashmir a personal relation and its transition ever since part and parcel at home.
Three weeks ago Prof. Upendra Kaul, renowned cardiologist, the ‘last’ of the old-school Kashmiri of service-to-people-before-religion-and-politics tribe, Nasir Lone an energetic convergent journalist who has travelled the world, originally from Lolab. Kupwara, and me over a quiet dinner impulse-spark-conversation at Gauri Manzil (Dr. Kaul’s home in Srinagar) decided to drive to Kupwara the next day. A Post Covid-19 work from home fatigue boredom trip.
We stayed overnight. Kaul Sahib saw the remoteness and challenges of the healthcare system and wanted to contribute immediately to it. So we returned the next day with Gauri Healthy Heart Project (J&K).
Named after Gauri Kaul, mother of Prof Kaul this project is a two years travel to remote rural areas in all the districts of J&K. One each month. It is to understand, participate and supplement the stupendous efforts of the government and the nascent private healthcare sector in our society.
Also to engage in some social conversation on the challenges and opportunities at the grassroots in our society on the lack of specialist healthcare services in rural areas, ambulances, drugs, medical research, patient care et al.
Gauri Heart Project will look at a preventive and curative cardiology through the prism of a world renowned Kashmiri Cardiologist and researcher. It is an aim to create a network in the society for our healthcare services through the much needed encouragement of Public Private Partnership. Getting the people together through social media to reach across and for each other.
We wrote to the District administration and Chief Medical Officer Health of Kupwara District for the first Gauri Healthy Heart Medical Camp & Healthy Heart Talk on 29th September, 2020 which is incidentally the World Heart Day. The response to our request was encouraging and enthusiastic participation by the District administration who welcomed us to come and do it.
Batra hospital academic research department is our primary partner, with Ummeed Foundation, Helpline Humanity, Gujjar Desh Charitable Trust as NGO partners.
Dr. Aijaz Mansoor, Senior Cardiologist has volunteered to join Prof. Upendra Kaul and his Batra hospital team for the Kupwara event.
Renowned Geriatric Consultant, Dr. Zubair Saleem, another core member of the project will look after the other medical conditions of elderly patients.
Greater Kashmir Communications Ltd. has been large hearted and magnanimous to open their platform to enable us to reach the people.
We are starting with an open mind to create a beneficiary pool of 100 patients on 29th September, 2020 in Kupwara.
They have been screened and selected by the health officials from the various Blocks of the District.
The medical camp will be followed by a Healthy Heart Talk by Prof. Upendra Kaul for the doctors and paramedics of the District.
The team shall then travel to Machil region in Lolab valley next day for survey of a Telemedicine Project. This is for the border areas which remain cut off in the winters causing acute hardships to people. Gauri Healthy Heart Project (J&K) is intended to hand hold beneficiary patients, provide for their medical needs, look after their respective needs and create a circle of association in the society.
To make this endeavor a realistic possibility we will need the wishes of our civil society. The people to come forward and contribute in every which way – as partners, volunteers, financial assistance, medicine, healthcare services, guidance, logistics and moral support. Interested people from each district can to come forward to join hands. The project website, social media groups and other platforms will be launched soon with more details on the project.
We request for your active participation in it.
From Kupwara, the proposed second destination is District Budgam. Dr. Zubair Saleem would coordinate the medical camp in block Khansahab wherein elderly patients with cardiac problems would be evaluated and treated.
We intend to engage with Asha workers for the Healthy Heart Talk.
My father’s chosen home, Kupwara, today is a different place. It is a success story of how a remote town has emerged from its poverty and backwardness into a thriving business centre braving many odds and challenges.
The market is alive, noisy and the growth of the region shows resilience and emergence in spite of hardships and adversities in our social, economic and political journey.
Ajaz Rashid is CEO, Gauri Healthy Heart Project (J&K)