paramedical staff, have been quarantined or isolated due to their exposure to positive or suspected cases of COVID-19, within a month of the pandemic in J&K, which reported the first case on March 9.
Vulnerability of the healthcare workers in J&K increases due to lack of protective equipment in all the hospitals across the Union Territory. With around 58 cases reported in last three days, doctors suggest that every patient complaining of any respiratory problem arriving at any hospital has to be seen as COVID-19 suspect unless proven otherwise. They argue that the healthcare structure would deal with these patients accordingly to reduce risk of getting exposed, especially in Kashmir, which is already staring at community spread.
In Jammu, a microbiologist working in a government medical college hospital in Jammu tested positive for COVID-19, as he was in-charge of collecting samples in the third week of March. Later, his three family members were also tested positive. In Srinagar, a nurse working at SKIMS Medical College and Hospital in Bemina, tested positive, 10 days after a patient, who had visited the hospital tested positive and died.
Jammu and Kashmir reported 158 positive cases in one month, of which majority of the cases—128 – were reported from Kashmir. However, healthcare workers didn’t come in direct contact with all these cases in J&K. Only a few persons, who had gone to multiple hospitals to report about regular cough, flu, pneumonia or any other respiratory or chest diseases and later they tested positive for COVID-19, came in direct contact with healthcare workers.
“Most of the positive cases were put under scanner due to their travel history, contact history or those turning symptomatic during quarantine, which means all possible precautions were taken while dealing with them,” said Dr Suhail Naik, a consultant pediatrician and president of Doctors Association of Kashmir. “The government has to treat all patients complaining of any respiratory issue as COVID-19 suspects unless proven otherwise. For this, each and every doctor and healthcare worker has to be equipped with PPEs and other basic precautionary gear,” said Naik.
In Kashmir, 13 healthcare workers of SKIMS Medical College and Hospital, including doctors were put under quarantine/isolation after case number 5 was tested positive in last week of March. The nurse who tested positive was of the sam batch. Similarly, four doctors and paramedical staff at Tangmarg hospital were put under quarantine due to their exposure to case number 29 in J&K.
In Pattan area of northern Kashmir, a private hospital had to put its staff under quarantine after a positive patient from Hajin passed away on April 6. Similarly, doctors in SKIMS hospital in Soura had to be isolated briefly as one of the relatives of a doctor had been tested positive. Some of the doctors, who had attended to two positive patients at their private clinics, have also put themselves in quarantine. At Gousia Hospital in Khanyar, SMHS hospital, Chest Disease hospital and JLNM hospital, some of the healthcare workers had to be quarantined.
“We need high end PPEs which have inbuilt respirator and oxygen cylinders and that too don’t end the risk completely. Ideally there is need of negative pressure isolation rooms for positive patients, which will reduce the risk of healthcare workers to get exposed to virus,” Masood Rashid, a consultant anesthetist told ET.
J&K administration had barred healthcare workers in Kashmir from sharing any details or concerns regarding COVID-19 pandemic with the media.
“We have received some PPE kits and N95 masks this week, but that this is not enough to fight a pandemic of this colossal consequences. We need to be properly equipped to fight this virus,” Dr Balvinder Singh, consultant orthopedic and president Doctors Association of Jammu told ET.
J&K administration claimed that there was no dearth of logistics and equipment to fight the pandemic and fresh equipment, including ventilators, are being procured as well. The officials said that there is sufficient buffer stock of PPEs, masks and are other protection gear. However, healthcare workers, the front line force to fight the pandemic aren’t satisfied.
“We are an army without arms, which of course cannot be expected to win wars, we are trying to somehow win small battles,” said a paramedical staffer at one of the hospitals in Srinagar.