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Coronavirus | Power cuts leave Kashmir’s COVID-19 patients gasping

Powerless at home: A patient in Srinagar. Disruption leaves the oxygen supply useless. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Kashmir is not new to winter woes, but this year’s unprecedented and unscheduled electricity cuts have left hundreds of oxygen-dependent COVID-19 patients on edge.

Niyaz Khan, a shopkeeper from Srinagar’s Lal Bazaar, has kept his ageing parents on a low-flow oxygen supply. “My parents had acute bilateral pneumonia. They were discharged from hospital and advised to be on round-the-clock oxygen for over a month. But we face a six-hour power cut during the day and erratic supply in the night. We sold gold ornaments to buy a generator,” Mr. Khan said.

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Rayees Qureshi, a banker from Bagh-e-Mehtab, who lost his father to the pandemic last month, said the poor electricity supply was increasing mortality.

“My COVID-affected mother is oxygen dependent. Generators are the only means for such patients to survive. Where will poor people go? Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can provide oxygen cylinders and concentrators but they won’t work without electricity,” Mr. Qureshi said.

Kashmir valley managed the pandemic’s peak earlier this year by nursing hundreds of patients at home. Virtual COVID-19 clinics run through WhatsApp groups helped the affected population recuperate at home, with timely medication and oxygen supply, aided by NGOs.

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“Home management has become tougher. I advise patients to keep generators handy and lend them to needy people too,” Dr. Nasir Shamas, a physician at Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial (JLNM) Hospital and a volunteer at a virtual WhatsApp clinic, said.

Doctors at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital in Srinagar also pointed to a different COVID-19 case trend in the winter. “Earlier, cluster cases would come from weddings and funerals, but they are now coming from large families forced to function from a single well-insulated room due to power cuts,” a doctor said.

Official figures put the number of active cases at 5,236 on November 27. Hundreds were being treated at home, but government hospitals are again staring at grim patient numbers.

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“As the domestic oxygen concentrators are not effective enough to maintain saturation of 90% and patients don’t get domiciliary oxygen due to the power situation, they come to government hospitals with complications,” Dr. Qazi Haroon, nodal officer for COVID-19 in the Kashmir Directorate of Health Services, said.

Official data say, against the demand of 1,800 megawatts (MW) J&K manages to procure less than 1,100 MW of power and the cuts are the worst in the past one decade.

NGOs losing battle

NGOs Ehsaas and Athrout Kashmir, at the forefront of supplying oxygen cylinders and concentrators to the needy, see themselves up against a wall.

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“Due to voltage drop, five of our concentrators broke down. This winter, power cuts have sounded the death knell. An oxygen cylinder does not last for many hours. The situation is grim. We attend to dozens of calls asking for oxygen concentrators,” Yasir Khan, general secretary, Ehsaas, said.

Our ‘dial a doctor' initiative, where Kashmiri doctors living abroad help COVID-19 patients free, will also become ineffective without electricity.

“We are trying to give bulk cylinders to people in need but that won’t suffice. We have seen patients’ situation worsening without oxygen,” Mr. Khan said, whose NGO managed 323 oxygen dependent patients over the past two months. “I think people also need to avoid too many room-heaters. It will save lives,” he added.

Athrout Kashmir has helped over 3,500 COVID-19 patients through tele-consultation and by providing oxygen concentrators.

Since the pandemic broke out in March, J&K has officially recorded 1.08 lakh patients, and 1,676 deaths.

“Around 7,82,712 persons were enlisted for observation, which included 20,275 in home quarantine and 43,432 under home surveillance,” an official said.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 5:17:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/coronavirus-power-cuts-leave-kashmirs-covid-19-patients-gasping/article33202409.ece

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