Friends on frontline: How Kashmir’s welfare bodies are tackling viral summer

Javed, 30, has been volunteering with Athrout as an ambulance driver since 2016. [FPK Photo/Zainab.]

With the return of Covid this summer, the welfare bodies hailed for rendering yeoman service during the first three viral waves are quietly tackling the current contagion.

Even as the ‘oxygen calls’ have marginally increased in the viral summer, Mohammad Afaaq Sayeed of SRO Kashmir is unfazed.

Streamlining of ground mobilisers and stockpiling of critical kits have made it a wieldy pandemic phase for his ilk.

“We’ve learnt our lessons during the vicious second wave,” Afaaq says. “The experience of handling pandemic has made us alert and helped us stock up oxygen cylinders and concentrators in our inventories.”

But unlike the first three pathological phases, the calls haven’t given tough time to the welfare body whose advent from a localized trust in Srinagar to the pan-Kashmir NGO was propelled by the pernicious pandemic.

“This phase is nowhere close to the earlier pandemic periods,” Afaaq details the situation. “One, it’s not affecting lungs anymore, and second, we’re much prepared to deal with this.”

Like movers and shakers of SRO Kashmir, Mohammad Ali Lone of Help Poor Voluntary Trust (HPVT) doesn’t want to leave any corner untouched to tackle the contagion.

Lone has already equipped his rank and file to “save breaths” in another catching summer of Kashmir.
These unsung—unassuming—heroes have been holding fort ever since the coronavirus created new normal in the valley.

“We’re receiving 10 to 15 calls every day asking for oxygen cylinders, flow meters, and oximeters,” informs Lone, a retired agricultural scientist and founder of HPVT. “But we’re dealing with the situation in a much better way due to adequate supply of critical equipment.”

Armed with experience of the last two years, Lone says, he has deputed his voluntary groups in different hospitals to keep the stock ready for the people in need. “We’re also focusing on awareness to save human lives this time around.”

Most of these NGOs, including HPVT, have been at the forefront of the recent crises in Kashmir. The prompt and proactive response from these welfare bodies made a huge difference in mitigating the social, economic and health emergencies in the valley. The role of Athrout in this regard has been significant.

The welfare body whose downtown office has become a go-to address for affordable medicines and other social care has also kept its staff handy in the city and countryside for countering the Covid-related complexities.

“To tackle this phase of pandemic,” says Mudasir Ahmad, one of the members of Athrout, “we’re donating around 100 oxygen concentrators in different districts.”

For its pan-Kashmir oxygen campaign, Athrout is collaborating with different NGOs or Bait Ul Maals. “We saw how these small NGOs faced problems due to shortage of oxygen concentrators in the last two years,” Mudasir continues. “Since they cannot reach Srinagar on time, we’re supplying concentrators to them free of cost.”

While these NGOs are quietly tackling the viral situation, Kashmir’s tertiary care hospitals are implementing the official guidelines to fight the situation.

The situation in Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital is not alarming. However, the administration has already taken necessary steps as a precautionary measure.

“Masks and tests are made mandatory inside the hospitals,” says Dr. Kanwaljeet Singh, Medical Superintendent of the SMHS hospital. “There’s no need to panic as we’re closely monitoring the situation.”

However, a rush of Covid patients can be seen in the Chest Disease (CD) Hospital for the last one month.

Two wards have been designated as full-fledged Covid units there, but a dearth of paramedical staff is creating some hurdles.

The CD hospital administration, says Dr. Saleem Tak, has already raised the matter of staff shortage with government.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll get the staff soon,” Dr. Tak, Medical Superintendent of the CD Hospital, says.

“As of now, we’re strictly following the Covid protocol since the cases are rising every day. Patients admitted in the hospital have mild symptoms.”

Meanwhile, Afaaq is continuously receiving calls for oxygen cylinders.

“The current Covid phase is mainly affecting the upper respiratory track and mostly impacts senior citizenry,” he says.

“Our volunteers are on their toes to prevent the situation from getting worse. But yes, the absence of Covid panic doesn’t mean absence of the disease this time around. We’re still fighting this invisible enemy and it’s not going away so soon.”

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