SRINAGAR: Most doctors and paramedics leading the fight against COVID-19 in Kashmir on Monday voiced concern over inadequate medical infrastructure, and said there is a lack of manpower to deal with the pandemic if it intensifies in the valley.
Doctors treating COVID-19 patients claimed they are stretched and unable to get proper rest.
Some medical workers also complained of a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Dr Suhail Nayak, president of Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK), said there is an urgent need for staff that can run ICUs and high-dependency units.
"I believe that even after these restrictions and lockdown, the COVID-19 cases will rise. I have no doubt that the government is focused on the COVID-19 battle, but the doctors are facing certain problems. For example, we lack manpower, the real manpower, which is trained to run the ICUs and high-dependency units," he said.
He said while it is the duty of doctors and health workers to fight this war, they need protection.
"The first and foremost being the PPE. I feel if the government does not arrange PPEs and cannot ensure continuous supply, we will lose this battle in the hospitals within ten days, some doctors may die or resign from service as there is a psychological impact. The PPE is of utmost importance for the delivery of healthcare services in this crisis," he added.
On whether the locally-made PPE can work, Nayak said proper PPEs cannot be replaced with unscientific clothing and instead of helping, such things can boomerang.
"Raincoat, polythene or fabric is not PPE. PPE is scientifically designed and accredited. If the doctors and other staff are made to wear the local ones, then it will be the government's responsibility if someone gets infected or dies," he said.
Asked if hospitals in Kashmir have enough ventilators, the DAK president said there are only 97 ventilators in the valley.
"The government has to purchase (ventilators). But there is a limiting factor, which is that if you purchase one lakh ventilators, then you need to have two lakh doctors to utilise those ventilators. You cannot buy ten cars for one driver. You need drivers for the cars."
"Similarly, ventilators need doctors for them to be utilised round the clock. We should not purchase so many ventilators that they lie in stores unutilised. At this critical juncture, we have to utilise the limited resources in a proper way so that this battle is won," he said.
A senior nurse at a super specialty hospital here, who declined to be identified, stressed on the need for a proper defence mechanism for healthcare workers against the invisible threat of coronavirus.
"Our hospital is a referral clinic. We get patients from across the valley, including those who have a travel history. We cannot refuse treatment to anyone, but there should be a proper defence mechanism."
"We are given a tissue-gown, a simple mask and not N95 or triple-layer mask. We share one sanitiser among 14 persons and it has to be used for a week before we get a refill on returning the empty bottle. In the given circumstances, we do not know what we are dealing with, we are exposed," she said.
A senior doctor at one of the designated coronavirus hospitals, who did not wish to be named, said lack of manpower poses the biggest challenge in the fight against coronavirus.
"We are facing a severe scarcity of staff because we are only a few doctors who are at the forefront. If you see the other departments, for example, we have anaesthetics or even in the department of medicine, resident doctors and others are working.
They work for a day and get six days off, for anesthetics it can stretch up to 14 days," he said.
"But those resident doctors or others who are working at the forefront and come in contact with COVID-19 patients have to work daily. It is a health hazard. If, God forbid, something happens to one of us, then the whole lot will be off for two-three weeks. Then who will look after the patients?" he asked.
The doctor said security in hospitals was another issue.
"See, some people run away from hospitals. Some may have genuine issues and some may not, but they are running away. Some are roaming around in hospitals. If any of them tests positive (for coronavirus), then you can imagine how many could be infected," he said, demanding proper security in hospitals.
Asked whether the doctors at the hospital have proper PPE and there is adequate supply, the doctor said, "As of now, we have adequate PPE."
"I do not know what the position will be after 15 days, but right now we have adequate protection kits," he said, adding that the available resources should be used judiciously. Principal of Government Medical College, Srinagar, Dr Samia Rashid also said adequate PPEs are available.
"As of now, we have an adequate supply. The government is providing supplies," she said.
However, Rashid also rued the lack of manpower.
"We have to manage with whatever manpower we have. We are short of people. The government has asked us to recruit people, but nobody is coming forward," she said.
The number of coronavirus cases in India rose to 1,071 and the death toll climbed to 29 in India on Monday.
Jammu and Kashmir has reported 31 coronavirus cases so far, including two deaths, according to the Union Health Ministry.