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Keep promises, establish health centres in Kashmir

Kupwara, Mon, 06 Feb 2012 ANI

Kupwara Feb 6 (ANI): Never judge a book by its cover, beauty too, has a dark side, goes the old adage. Located amid the lush forests of Fir and Deodar, Kupwara town in north Kashmir is blessed with sheer natural beauty offering soothe to the eyes and to the heart. The landscape has a salubrious air of calm and peace. But it pales in comparison to its neighboring town of Varmul (Baramullah), a relatively more beautiful township.


Carved out of erstwhile district Varmul in July, 1979, Kupwara still remains part of Varmul Kupwara Parliamentary Constituency. For its dwellers, life has become synonymous with the miseries they are forced to live with. It reflects injustice, denying people the very basic rights necessary for a life of dignity and good health. Acute shortage of drinking water and electricity, poor health care and dilapidated roads are only some of the problems this remotely located region is fighting with. Non-availability of such basic facilities has marred the livelihood and consequent quality of life of its residents.


Last month, reports of the extreme weather conditions that disconnected the entire Kashmir Valley from rest of the country hit the headlines for many days. A record-breaking temperature of minus 7.8 degree Celsius stunned residents into inaction. While we were comfortably reading the news with a "how do people manage out there" expression, people of the Valley were living that frozen reality amid much misery.


The tough geographic and climatic conditions make the availability of Health Care Centre in such regions even more crucial. The double-storied building of the Community Health Centre (CHC), the only seemingly modern structure visible in this north Kashmir town awaits up-gradation. Despite the tall claims of the successive governments to provide better facilities across rural Kashmir, the CHC, Kupwara continues to bear the ever- growing burden of patients streaming in from across the region.


According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, every district is expected to have a district hospital linked with the public hospitals/health centers within the district, such as Sub-district/Sub-divisional hospitals, Community Health Centers, Primary Health Centers and Sub-centers.


The health centres are meant to be an effective referral support provided for effective primary healthcare. Towards this end, one Community Health Centre (CHC) has been established for every 80,000 to 1, 20,000 population, and provides the basic specialty services in general medicine, pediatrics, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology. The CHCs are established by either upgrading the sub-district/taluka hospitals or some of the block level Primary Health Centers (PHCs) or by creating a new centre wherever absolutely needed.


The CRC, Kupwara was established in the year 1960. Since then, its up-gradation in terms of infrastructure, staff and advanced medical facilities has been on the cards. A large majority of the population that comes to the Center hails from the hilly and remote hamlets of Kupwara and often feels cheated seeing the condition of the Center: acute shortage of doctors, particularly Pediatricians, Sonologists, ENT Specialists, Assistant Surgeons and Physician Specialists; lack of proper space and some key testing facilities has rendered this critical health centre almost irrelevant.


Official records reveal that the hospital is visited by an average of 20,000 patients in OPD and 4000 patients in IPD per month. The massive rush in the absence of adequate facilities mars its reputation - local communities have high expectations of the CHC and visit it for medical consultations, even though some of the necessary facilities are available in other hospitals of the district.


After experiencing the apathy of the medical setup at the CHC, most patients move to Srinagar for the treatment of even minor ailments, resulting in overburdening of tertiary care hospitals. "No doctor or a paramedic wants to work here (CHC) because of lack of basic services", says a doctor, wishing anonymity. He confirmed that even though they cater to patient care to the best of their abilities, most cases get referred to Srinagar hospitals for tests like MRI or CT scan.


"There are many instances when the referred patient died on the way to Srinagar hospitals in the absence of immediate medical aid, given to the large distance between Kupwara and Srinagar," the doctor further added.


In the nearby Iqbal market, a group of people led by a local Social activist Showkat Massodi, narrate to me how successive governments have neglected their needs. After decades of waiting, Union Health Minister and former Chief Minister, GN Azad had assured the people that CHC; Kupwara would be upgraded to a full-fledged district level hospital with the installation of MRI and CT scan facilities. But funds are still lacking for upgradation .


"We could have saved lives of several civilians who were caught in the crossfire had our CHC been equipped with facilities and specialized care. Over the last 20 years, many have lost their lives to bullets or grenade splinters. They lost the battle for life due to non-availability of a blood bank," a local rued.


During campaigning in the 2008 elections, political parties went from door to door seeking maximum support from every individual and lured them with the promises of life with dignity and better facilities in rural areas. Once the elections were over, the dreams vanished into thin air.


India's Public Health System has developed over the years and has achieved great heights in the health sector, with medical tourism growing by leaps and bounds. We have failed miserably, though, in achieving a similar status in rural and isolated regions of the country. Kupwara is not a case in isolation, but a common situation all over rural India. We need to strictly administer the situation of effective referral support in such areas represented by CHCs, Primary Health Centers and Sub-Centers.


Over the years, Kashmir has lost enough lives to militancy. Not having a well equipped health center takes away from us the feasible chances of saving our dear ones.


The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that letting a person die because of unavailability of well equipped health centers is a national shame. y Shahjahan Afzal (ANI)


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