Flood waters cripple health facilities in Kashmir

Overflowing waters of Himalayan river Jhelum, triggered by heavy monsoon rains last month, have left a trail of devastation in the Jammu and Kashmir state of India. Several cities and towns including the state’s capital, Srinagar, have remained inundated with flood waters, leaving thousands of people stranded in their homes. In many places, water levels rose to as high as 15 feet. More than 200 people have lost their lives in what is described as the worst disaster in the state in the past 60 years. Flood waters also submerged areas across the border in Pakistan.

The flood has paralysed the state’s administration and health-care infrastructure. The health system became dysfunctional at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels in both the private and public sectors. The Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), a government-run tertiary care centre in Srinagar, is the only medical facility that remained functional. All other major hospitals were under water and patients had to be evacuated, while many were reported to have drowned in swirling waters. Medical equipment such as radiograph machines, MRI scanners, and pathological laboratories have been damaged, rendering them useless.

Medical staff could not report for duties as their houses were flooded. Pharmacies in Srinagar and other cities have been under flood waters for 2 weeks and all drugs stored there have been damaged, resulting in shortages of life-saving drugs, intravenous fluids, and sanitary products. The government department of health could not function because its personnel could not be reached and all modes of communication such as mobile and landline phones broke down. Offices of voluntary agencies such as the Red Cross in Srinagar were also flooded.

The first priority for relief agencies is to reach the marooned with basic needs of food, drinking water, and essential medicines. Medical relief had to be rushed in by the armed forces and the National Disaster Response Force. Teams of doctors and specialists, as well as essential drug supplies, were flown in from New Delhi. Rescued people are being treated in military hospitals and medical camps. Accessing districts south of Srinagar still remains a challenge for relief workers. Doctors from government hospitals in New Delhi have been sent to provide specialised care in district hospitals in Anantnag, Phulwama, Kulgam, Shopian, Badgam, and Bandipur. The Delhi Medical Association has deployed 20 specialists to work in make-shift hospitals. Additionally, experts from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore are assessing psychosocial needs of people affected by the flood.

«We have been able to prevent spread of waterborne diseases due to combined efforts of military and civilian doctors», Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after visiting health facilities in the last week of September. Except Barzullah Bone and Joints Hospital which is located on high ground, he said, facilities that were on ground floors of all four major hospitals in Srinagar have been destroyed. Vital departments like emergency, radiology, blood bank, and outpatient wards will have to be rebuilt from scratch.

The Lancet – Read full article here.

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