In the first week of May, Qazi Idrees, a 29-year-old government employee, was making desperate calls to get a ventilator supported ICU bed for his father, Qazi Aftaab. Aftaab was admitted at JVC Medical College and Hospital in Srinagar, which was severely understaffed and under-resourced. “When my father required high-flow oxygen, they kept him on low-flow,” Idrees told me. “They asked us, as our father’s attendants, to give him injections,” Idrees said. “How could we? It’s a sophisticated set-up and what if we did anything wrong, who would be responsible? They even asked us to do suction by ourselves, how could we do it, what are the doctors there for?” Qazi Aftaab died of COVID-19 on 17 May, along with 73 others in Jammu and Kashmir. His case is emblematic of the critical shortage of oxygen, drugs, healthcare staff and hospital beds of Jammu and Kashmir’s health systems.
Amid this public health crisis, as COVID-19 cases and deaths have been rising dramatically in the region, the territory’s administration has been creating hurdles for local NGOs and civil-society organisations that have been filling in the gap, providing essential oxygen and drugs. Several doctors and local leaders told me that the current spike in cases in Kashmir was, at least in part, because the administration encouraged an influx of tourists in an attempt to portray Kashmir as having returned to normalcy. On 4 May, when Aftaab was admitted at JVC medical college, 4,650 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Jammu and Kashmir.
Idrees told me he had initially been glad when they had been able to find a hospital bed for his father, something that became increasingly hard as cases in Kashmir surged up. But as he discovered, the hospital was struggling with its limited resources, and said that the doctors were using the same amount of oxygen in regular oxygen beds and in intensive-care unit beds. “Initially they moved us to a bed, which they said was an ICU bed, but they used the same 60-litre oxygen machine. They even told the district commissioner, who had called them on our behalf, that we were provided an ICU and the patient is stable. It was a lie. No care is being given to patients.”