At a time when the Covid-19 cases have come down in Jammu and Kashmir, there have been concerns over the possible third wave. Director Health Services Kashmir (DHSK), Dr Mushtaq Ahmed Rather in a one to one chat with Rising Kashmir’s Health Correspondent Mansoor Peer, talks about the lessons learned in the first and second Covid wave and overall preparations of hospitals and health department for the possible third wave.
When you were posted as director, there was a huge Covid-19 crisis? How did you take the challenge?
Covid-19 was a challenging task for all of us. But I was fortunate that I got tremendous support from the Lieutenant Governor-led administration. Similarly, the role of Additional Chief Secretary, Health and Medical Education Department, Atal Dulloo was very important. He was always available and very supportive. He guided us at every step of the Covid management which made our task easy. The role of doctors and paramedics who worked from dawn to dusk has been praise-worthy. I am very thankful to all the officials for their support.
How have people responded to vaccination rollout?
See, when we initially started Covid vaccination, there was a lot of vaccine hesitancy. People were reluctant to come forward for vaccination. We started various campaigns to encourage people. Then we changed our strategy. We decided that let's not wait for people to come to us, let’s go to them.
We organized special vaccination drives across rural areas, schools, and colleges. It is always teamwork. Teams were sent to far-flung, rural areas following all SOPs and emergency protocols. Each team had an ambulance, doctor and nurse with them to get people vaccinated. It has proved to be a game-changer step. Everybody in the team works. People outside J&K have also appreciated our unique vaccination model. This unique model boosted the confidence of people.
Is there any mechanism in place to motivate people who still refuse vaccination?
I have personally visited all districts. There have been some fake videos on social media that created a scare among people. People should not believe in rumours. They should encourage vaccination.
There has been no untoward incident across Jammu and Kashmir since the vaccination was started in January. People must debunk myths and come forward for vaccination. It is a safe and important tool to save ourselves.
Furthermore, the department on its part has started an aggressive campaign for awareness about the importance of vaccination.
The prominent doctors, religious leaders, and socio-political activists have been requested by the department to play their role. Besides this, print and electronic and social media is being used for generating awareness.
What are your targets for the vaccination?
Government has a target that each and every person should get vaccinated as soon as possible. The target is that we want every person to get vaccinated. The healthcare workers are working from dawn to dust. It can’t be done in a day. Soon we will finish the vaccination process. We are also happy that we have fully vaccinated most of the districts in the above 45 age group.
In a short time DHSK improved oxygen facilities in hospitals. How have the facilities been improved?
From day one, the government was focused that no one shall die of lack of oxygen. It was our dream that every hospital should have ample oxygen. Consequently, the government provided new oxygen generation plants to each hospital. With the result, we could create facilities for oxygen in the shortest possible time. J&K was among the few states where we didn’t face oxygen crisis. The credit goes to the government and it made our work easy.
What is the current status of oxygen supply, keeping in view possible third Covid wave?
We are self-sufficient in oxygen supply. It depends on how Covid-19 behaves. We have installed oxygen generation plants. We have oxygen concentrators and cylinders available in bulk. Even at PHC level, oxygen cylinders are available. On the direction of Lieutenant Governor, we have even kept oxygen beds available in each Panchayat. We are happy that we have sufficient facilities of oxygen at present and we are constantly working to create a good and viable backup.
How are you coping with the post-Covid complications of people?
We have instructed all the hospitals that come under the administrative control of DHSK to start special post-Covid care units. We have already started post-Covid clinics which are working every day. Patients having post-Covid complications are treated in these units.
How challenging was it to fight against the deadly virus?
It was indeed a challenging task situation worldwide. We are fortunate that with the initiatives and support of the government, we have performed remarkably well which has been appreciated by the people.
Has there been any improvement in the availability of ventilators in hospitals?
As far as the health department is concerned, all the district hospitals have got ventilators under the PM CARE Fund. We have already created ICUs in each district hospital and made them functional. Furthermore, we have connected all these ICUs with the ICU of JLNM hospital Srinagar to make them functional round the clock. The Additional Chief Secretary, Health and Medical Education Department, Atal Dulloo recently inaugurated this tele-ICU facility from JLNM Hospital Srinagar. This is aimed to take care of critical patients at district hospitals.
What has been the role of district hospitals in the fight against the virus?
The valley’s district hospitals have worked at par with the tertiary care hospitals. During Covid, we had huge bed occupancy in districts that minimized the referral. Even at district hospitals, we took care of level-1 and level-2 patients. They have done a tremendous job. As we go by the figures, referrals have come down.
How many doctors or health workers have died/infected due to Covid-19?
Unfortunately, we have lost a few doctors and paramedics due to the pandemic. Besides them, scores of them got infected since the inception of the pandemic. See we have to understand the nature of the job. We can’t say no to any patient coming for Covid or non-Covid care. Our healthcare workers have done an exemplary job. The sacrifices and services of the health care workers are being appreciated and will be remembered from time immemorial.
How is DHSK gearing up for the possible third wave?
Let’s hope and pray that the third wave doesn’t hit us. But that in no way means that we should lower our guard and show laxity in our approach. The government as a whole is working overtime so as to see to it that if at all the third wave hits Jammu and Kashmir. We are prepared to face the challenge. There has been a constant focus on testing, vaccination, surveillance across the valley.
Besides this, we are constantly training doctors, paramedics, and other associated health care workers for management of ICUs, ventilators.
We are constantly working on increasing our oxygen bed capacities besides installing more and more oxygen generation plants. Furthermore, paediatric care units are being upgraded across the valley hospitals.
The focus is on creating and upgrading the existing NICUs, PICUs, SNCU, HDUs, ICUs, besides creating more and more paediatric beds in the hospitals.
What is your message for the health workers?
We are proud of our health care workers. They have done exemplary work since the pandemic started. They did not go to their homes. They were there to save lives. They should continue the good work as they have been doing. We don’t know when the third wave would come so we have to be ready.
How many tests are conducted each day?
Though, the Covid cases have come down. We have increased the testing. Last month, we hit a record in sampling as we tested over 30,000 people in a day.
We understand that the best way to detect the disease is sampling. We are continuing sampling and testing.
Sampling should in no way get reduced. Every hospital is continuing sampling and there is no laxity in that. I am happy that our staff in district hospitals has done a tremendous job in sampling which has helped us in the mitigating of Covid.
What is your message for the general public?
We are thankful to the general public that they have shown tremendous courage and resilience to fight the virus and have been very cooperative with the department so far.
However, we are observing that ever since the cases came down, some people have started showing some disregard towards established SOPs and aren’t following Covid appropriate behaviour which could have disastrous consequences and can be very detrimental in our fight against the virus.
I appeal to the general public to main Covid appropriate behavior; follow guidelines and SOPs strictly for the safety of ourselves and society at large.