Srinagar: Doctors in government-run hospitals and medical health workers in Kashmir, involved in testing and screenings of suspected cases of COVID-19 declared a pandemic by World Health Organisation (WHO), have raised concerns about the lack of proper and adequate personnel protection gears and safety equipment like N95 masks, PVC coated gowns and goggles.
Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) on Saturday sent a letter to Baseer Ahmad Khan, the newly appointed advisor to the lieutenant governor of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir in which they pointed out that hospitals in Kashmir lacked “proper and adequate personnel protection gear especially N95 Masks, PVC coated gowns, goggles and other equipments.”
The doctors’ body cautioned the administration that there was a “looming threat that the coronavirus would engulf the Valley.”
“We appeal your good self to kindly make arrangements to supply protective gear for the doctors, nurses and other paramedical and supportive staff, so that they work without any apprehensions in health facilities,” the letter stated.
The doctors also suggested dividing the existing hospital staff in bigger hospitals into three teams so that “adequate back-up staff remains available all the time if God forbid some untoward happens.”
“Team 1 immediate frontline teams in each district hospitals and medical colleges, Team 2 to perform routine hospital protocols and Team 3 as Back-Up Team to support both Team 1 and 2, whenever the need arises,” the body suggested in the letter.
The doctors’ body also requested for procurement of adequate ventilators to augment the capacity of district hospitals and new medical colleges in the Valley.
“There is indeed a shortage of protective gear for healthcare personnel. PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) needed by doctors and paramedics is not available abundantly as of now,” a consultant ENT doctor who works in a government-run hospital in South Kashmir told The Wire.
“They are being rationed now so that only those who are in direct contact with suspected cases use them. The same is the case with N95 masks. They are disposable and every doctor and paramedic needs a new one after every eight hours,” said the doctor who wished not to be named.
The doctor urged the authorities to designate three teams so that the doctors can ration both limited stock and protect health workers from getting infected.
“Maybe slowly we might start getting more supplies of this required equipments and protective gear,” he said.
Dr Samia Rashid, the principal of Government Medical College Srinagar took to Twitter to point out that more manpower was needed to run the ventilators in the hospital.
“We have enough ventilators to contain the situation right now but our manpower to run them all is not sufficient. We are already in process to address that,” the principal wrote on Twitter in response to a query about the number of ventilators needed in case of a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“We have just received 1,00,000 triple layer masks from JKMSCL. These will be distributed judiciously amongst associated hospitals,” she added.
The principal also informed that they’d a meeting with MoS Dr Jitendra Singh on their preparedness for COVID-19 cases. “Highlighted the issue of shortage of ventilators with him and Director NHM. We have been promised 40 high-end ventilators by the end of this month,” the principal tweeted and also added that as of Friday, they had acquired more than 13,000 N95 masks, 3300 PPE kits, and 22,000 triple layered masks.
“Additionally, taking cognisance of the impending scarcity, Medical Superintendent SMHS has procured 10,000 additional triple-layered masks last night,” she said.
A doctor in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district told The Wire that as a tertiary referral centre in North Kashmir, his workplace had no ICU facility and no MRI facility either.
“CT scan is not working here for the past almost one year,” the doctor said.
The doctor said that the medical staff in the district hospital associated with the care of suspected COVID-19 patients have no personnel protective equipment as recommended by leading world health organisations.
“Because without protection, staff may refuse to see such patients given the fear associated with this disease,” he said.
“I think COVID-19 patients will come like a sudden, huge upsurge of sick patients in addition to routine heart attack patients, brain haemorrhage septic shock patients which can turn into a grave situation,” the doctor said. “Many such patients will need ICU care which is not available.”
The doctor emphasised that to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic there should always be an “action plan which is always ready beforehand like availability of protective equipment, nurses, ICU and reserve doctors who have to be mobilised in this situation.”
The doctor advised the administration to mobilise nurses and doctors under training in various institutes to deal with the shortage of medical personnel.
Another doctor working in a government hospital in North Kashmir’s Kupwara district said that the doctors and medical staff there are also facing a shortage of safety gear and other equipment to deal with COVID-19.
“Ventilators are a distant dream for us when even Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is not available here,” the doctor said.
Providing adequate safety gear to doctors in all district hospitals should be a priority for the administration now, the doctor added.
Meanwhile, two doctors – one of them from SKIMS hospital and another doctor from SMHS hospital in Srinagar – have been kept under observation at tertiary care hospital SKIMS in Soura, Srinagar after they complained of fever and respiratory distress symptomatic of COVID-19.
“The government is using us as cannon fodder in its combat against COVID-19 because we don’t have access to protective gear,” said a doctor working at Government Medical College Srinagar, according to a report in the Tribune.
Another doctor from a government hospital told a local news agency that if doctors and paramedical staff became victims of COVID-19, they would be unable to treat the patients.
“I am unable to understand why authorities are not taking this issue seriously. We want to give our best but we need protective measures as lack of protective gear puts our lives as well as lives of patients at risk,” the doctor said.
Majid Maqbool is a journalist and editor based in Srinagar, Kashmir.