Why more deaths in Jammu due to coronavirus?


Prof Hari Om

A pall of gloom has descended on several towns and villages of Jammu province. The reason: A very high death rate in the province due to the deadly Corona virus. Between May 1 and 25, no less than 850 people have lost their lives in Jammu province, bulk of them in Jammu district. Kashmir too lost 492 lives during the same period due to the same virus. No wonder then that the common people of the province are in a state of shock and questioning the authorities as to why they didn’t create the necessary infrastructure before the commencement of the second wave of man-eating Corona virus?
It’s in public domain that Jammu province, unlike Kashmir, lacks the required infrastructure to defeat the virus and save the lives. It needs to be noted and emphasized that the current death rate in Jammu province is 1.80%, as against the 1.11% national mortality rate.
What has the Government Medical College, Jammu, to say about the high death rate in Jammu province? Only on May 15, the College administration claimed that “the B.1.617 variant of the virus was responsible for the recent surge in Covid-19 cases in the region”. At the same time, however, “healthcare experts,” according to a report from Kashmir, “say the higher mortality rate in Jammu cannot be directly put down to the presence of the B.1.617 variant”. “They linked the fatalities with” what they called “the structural deficiencies in the region’s healthcare sector”.
“A senior doctor,” also reportedly said: “Jammu region lacks robust healthcare infrastructure compared to Kashmir. The distances between the urban tertiary care hospitals in Jammu and the peripheries are large, which is not the case with Kashmir…The infrastructure at the peripheries is not good. So, the patient might not get proper medical care on time”. The healthcare experts have also said that “while remote areas in Kashmir are relatively well-connected with district centres and healthcare institutions in Srinagar city, the same doesn’t hold true for far flung areas of the Jammu region”.
A report from Kashmir has further thrown ample light on the causes responsible for the high death rate in Jammu. It, for example, said: “The crisis is aggravated by the centralization of tertiary care infrastructure in and around the city of Jammu. In Kashmir, we see that a lot of burden is being shared by district level hospitals and zonal Medical Colleges…That reduces a lot of burden on healthcare in Srinagar city”. The report is based on what a “consultant doctor” said about the issue. “Another factor that contributed to the crisis in Jammu division,” according to the report, “was the thrust on private practice by the government doctors”. “Somewhere we feel a doctor’s commitment to hospital practice is not as developed as you have in Kashmir…They are involved in a lot of private practice, which is also a service, but at this moment, the focus should be on dedicating resources and time on hospital practice,” the report quoting a senior doctor said.
Other factor responsible for the high death rate in Jammu due to the Corona virus is inadequate staff in the Government Medical College Jammu and its associated five hospitals, including Gandhi Nagar Hospital. A report in this regard says that “as late as in February this year there was 30% shortage of faculty members and 70% shortage of super specialists at these hospitals”. The report further said: “Lack of manpower isn’t restricted to doctors alone: 136 posts of nursing staff, 73 posts of paramedics and 147 posts of Class IV employees were lying vacant”. Not just this, most of the health centres in Jammu province are without doctors. For example, in 2018, “out of 259 health centres located in remote hilly areas of the Jammu division, doctors were posted only in 75 of them”. But inadequate medical staff and the menace of private practice are not the sole factors responsible for the high mortality rate in Jammu province. Paucity of life-saving air, Oxygen, and inadequate number of ventilators and beds, indifferent attitude of the authorities towards Jammu province and the failure of the Jammu-based political class are equally responsible for the rising number of unfortunate deaths in the province. Besides, the powers-that-be at the centre are not focusing on Jammu province like they focus on Kashmir. The manner in which the Government of India helped the J&K administration to get from Germany seven Oxygen Generation Units for Kashmir is just one case in point. Put in any amount of efforts to find if the authorities in the state and at the centre did anything extraordinary for meeting the extraordinary situation in Jammu province, you will come out of the exercise minus everything.
On May 17, Financial Commissioner, Health and Medical Education Department, Atal Dulloo’s strong letter did ask the Government Medical College, Jammu, to take “corrective measures” to save the lives of the COVID-19 patients. His letter, inter-alia, read like this: “It is desirable that the senior faculty members of the concerned departments of your institution be directed to increase their presence by making frequent rounds of wards, where the COVID positive patients are admitted so that such patients are properly looked after and treated, which will help us in reducing the mortality also”.
The question to be asked is: Will such letters help defeat the virus? The answer cannot be in the affirmative. Only adequate medical staff, including doctors, and adequate health-related infrastructure plus restrictions on private practice alone can. It is hoped that the authorities would take all the necessary steps and equip all the hospitals with the required infrastructure to meet the situation instead of doling out hollow sermons. Will they? Let’s wait and see.