In letter in BMJ, doctors urge government to allow patients in Kashmir to access health care

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The prevailing situation in Jammu & Kashmir is preventing people from accessing health care, say 18 doctors in a letter published in BMJ. The letter urges the government to “ease restrictions on communication and travel at the earliest… to allow patients to access health care without hindrance”.

In a letter published on August 16 in the medical journal BMJ, a group of 18 doctors from across India have said that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, where the Indian government has heavily restricted the movement of people, is preventing people from accessing health care.

In a written by Dr. Ramani Atkuri, a public health physician in Madhya Pradesh, and 17 others including Dr. Jain Y who is on the BMJ‘s Patients’ Rights Committee as an email group member have said that there is “blatant denial of the right to health care and the right to life”. They have urged the central government to “ease restrictions on communication and travel at the earliest, and undertake any other measures that are required to allow patients to access health care without hindrance”.

The letter says that “people are unable to call an ambulance to take a sick person to hospital” forcing them to take the sick person in a “private vehicle”. “These vehicles [private vehicles] are stopped every few metres by security forces standing at concertina wire barricades to check identity and ask questions”.

According to the letter, it is not just patients who have difficulty in reaching the hospitals, even the staff do. “Though hospitals are generally stocked with supplies, staff have found it difficult to reach the hospital. Hospitals that are usually overcrowded are largely empty now,” the letter says.

While the government had initially denied pellet injuries, on August 14 the State police had confirmed that there have been pellet injuries due to “stray protests” in Srinagar. The letter confirms what the police had then said and provides more details. It says: “Several patients have been admitted with pellet gun injuries, and some have been seriously injured. Only those who can make it to a hospital can get some care.”

It then adds: “Some doctors worry about their patients on dialysis as only a few patients requiring dialysis from Srinagar have been able to come for treatment, while those living outside have not been able to reach the hospital… There are reports of other patients who have not been able to reach the hospital in time for their scheduled cycle of chemotherapy.”

The letter also mentions about medicines running out of stock. “Certain medications are out of stock in the local stores and there is at least one report of a person having to fly to New Delhi to purchase medicines for a sick relative,” it says.

“Some women due to deliver were moved closer to a hospital when the troop build up began as they anticipated some trouble. There are likely to be many more women who are not able to get to a hospital for their delivery, or have got there very late,” the letter mentions. “The situation has also led to a lot of mental stress among a population already living with high levels of psychosocial stress.”

Published in The Hindu on August 19, 2019