Saturday, December 2, 2023

Lack of gynaecologists in Kashmir’s Gurez Valley leaves expecting moms on the edge

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Medical team helping a woman in distress to reach the health centre. Photo: Dr Tahira Nazir

A silent crisis has been unfolding in Kashmir’s Gurez Valley casting a shadow over the lives of its expectant mothers. For over a decade, an estimated population of 37,000 has been without the services of a gynaecologist.

This glaring void in specialized medical care has left approximately 300 pregnant women with limited access to proper healthcare, healthcare experts claim. Instead, they rely on the assistance of ASHA workers during childbirth, exacerbating concerns for those facing complicated pregnancies.

The situation becomes dire when complications arise, as expectant mothers have to travel long distances to Bandipora or Srinagar for adequate care. These arduous journeys are filled with uncertainty, especially during winter when the valley’s roads become impassable for months, rendering emergency medical evacuations impossible.

Jabeena, a 50-year-old woman, recalls that she had to travel to Bandipora, 100 km away from her home to give birth to her child despite having a Community Health Centre (CHC) just 300 metres away.

Jabeena, having experienced the hardships firsthand, made a resolute decision after her first delivery – to give birth at home in the future. It is a choice driven by the absence of viable alternatives, as well as a desire to spare herself from the ordeal of accessing distant healthcare facilities.

Ayesha, a 28-year-old expectant mother, recounts her struggle to access medical care. “I have to walk for hours just to reach the nearest healthcare centre, only to be turned away because they lack the expertise to handle my case,” she says with tears welling in her eyes. “I fear for my unborn child, and every day feels like an uphill battle.”

Last winter, the authorities attempted to address the dire situation by deploying doctors on a rotational basis. However, this stopgap measure only lasted for three months this year, till March, with inconsistent deployment leaving significant gaps in medical coverage.

“The issue has remained unsolved, and every time, especially in the winter, we have to face situations wherein desperate families seek the administration’s help to airlift the expecting or critically ill patients. Being witnesses to this, we wish no one has to face such situations wherein hope also seems to have died,” laments Abdul Rashid, a resident.

“The absence of a gynaecologist in Gurez Valley’s main hospital has persisted for over a decade, with the local community bearing the brunt of this negligence. Despite assurances from the Director of Health Services Kashmir and the occasional dispatch of specialized doctors, the roster remains unfulfilled, and these doctors return to their original stations. Consequently, the burden falls upon Medical Officers to shift patients in need of emergency surgeries, further stretching their already limited resources.

“The absence of gynaecologists has already claimed the lives of numerous pregnant women in past, exposing a grim reality of negligence and government apathy,” Rashid said.

Block Medical Officer of Gurez, Dr Tahira Nazir, acknowledged that the valley has been deprived of a gynaecologist for an extended period.

She revealed that numerous appeals have been made to higher authorities over the years, pleading for the deployment of a gynaecologist to address the pressing healthcare needs of the community. However, despite repeated requests, the valley continues to suffer from this critical staffing shortage.

“This year, there was a glimmer of hope when higher authorities finally dispatched gynaecologists on a rotational basis. Unfortunately, this relief proved to be short-lived, lasted only three months,” she said

 Adding that both the people and the healthcare department are bearing the brunt of this unavailability.

“During the summer months, when access to healthcare in Srinagar hospitals is relatively easier, complicated cases are redirected there. However, as winter descends upon the valley, the situation becomes grim. The healthcare department has devised a strategy to identify high-risk patients in advance and transfer them to higher centres before the harsh winter sets in. This preemptive measure aims to mitigate the potential risks that arise due to the absence of a gynaecologist during the winter months,” she added.

She said that approximately 300 pregnant women currently reside in Gurez Valley, and their access to proper and adequate medical care remains in jeopardy.

Adding that, While laboratory technicians and X-ray machines are operational, the ultrasound (USG) machine remains idle due to the absence of a radiologist or USG expert. This neglect hampers the diagnosis and treatment of various medical conditions, leaving patients without access to crucial medical imaging services.

Even the newly created NTPHCs (National Tuberculosis Program Health Centers) in Gurez Valley, including those at Choorwan, Gujjran, and Kanzalwan, are functioning without doctors. These centres, managed by Female Multi-purpose Health Workers (FMPHWs) or pharmacists, further underscore the dire state of healthcare in the region.

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