Relatives of COVID-19 patients carry oxygen cylinders to refill at SMHS Hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Relatives of COVID-19 patients carry oxygen cylinders to refill at SMHS Hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Photo by Sajad Hameed

While a lot of noise has been made about oxygen shortage in the national capital during the second wave of COVID-19 in India, Kashmir seems to be quietly suffering in a corner.

Last week, Umer Farooq, a resident of Srinagar, lost his mother, who had tested positive for COVID-19, due to the unavailability of oxygen at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital.

Speaking to The Free Press Journal, Farooq said, "My mother had tested COVID-19 positive. She was recovering, but suddenly on her 4th day in the hospital, the staff informed us that there is an oxygen shortage. We begged of them to give us one cylinder. We searched for oxygen at private companies too, but to no avail."

Informing that his mother was showing signs of recovery, he further added, "My mother's reports made us hopeful. She was recovering, but suddenly we were told that there is an oxygen shortage and she passed away."

Attendant of another COVID-19 patient at SMHS Hospital, Vijay said, "My mother has used up half of her oxygen cylinder. She only has half left. If she doesn't get one, she will die."

Multiple attendants could be seen running around to arrange oxygen for their family or friends who are taking treatment for COVID-19 at SMHS Hospital.

Family members of COVID-19 patients wait outside an oxygen-filling center to refill their empty cylinders as demand for the gas rises due to spike in Coronovirus cases in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Family members of COVID-19 patients wait outside an oxygen-filling center to refill their empty cylinders as demand for the gas rises due to spike in Coronovirus cases in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Photo by Sajad Hameed

Javeed Ahmad, Chairman of Social Reform Organisation NGO in Kashmir informs that patients who are suggested home quarantine, due to mild sickness or lack of beds in hospitals, also require oxygen. However, hospitals only have oxygen for those admitted there.

"Government has enough oxygen for its hospitals only, not for those who are taking treatment at home. We provide oxygen to those who are not getting admission in hospitals either because they are not so sick or there is no space in the hospital," Ahmad says.

There are also patients who require oxygen even after being discharged from the hospital.

Ahmad further says, "There are some patients who get recovered and they are discharged from the hospital but before discharging them, hospital authorities ask them to make arrangements for oxygen support at home. Attendants of such patients also come to us and seek oxygen support from us."

At any given hour, at least 350 patients are receiving oxygen support from SRO, says the Chairman.

SRO workers carrying oxygen cylinders to COVID-19 patients who require oxygen in Srinagar, Kashmir.
SRO workers carrying oxygen cylinders to COVID-19 patients who require oxygen in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Photo by SRO

While the above-mentioned experiences indicate a need for more oxygen in Kashmir's capital, the health officials disagree.

Dr Nazir Hussain Chowdhary, Medical Superintendent at SMHS Hospital, informs that the hospital has 5 oxygen-generation plants, 1830 big D-type cylinders and 20 medium cylinders.

Relatives of COVID-19 patients carry oxygen cylinders to refill at SMHS Hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Relatives of COVID-19 patients carry oxygen cylinders to refill at SMHS Hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Photo by Sajad Hameed

"There is no shortage of oxygen at SMHS hospital. We have 5 oxygen plants. Every bed in the hospital is connected to oxygen which is coming directly from the oxygen generation plants," says Dr Chowdhary.

"I have myself visited the hospital and there are beds with as many as 8 cylinders beside them," he added

When asked about the death of Farooq's mother, he replied, "Aisi koi baat nahi hai. Every bed is connected to the oxygen plant. There are also patients with lungs that are 90-95% dysfunctional. Even oxygen cannot save such patients."

On further pressing, Dr Chowdhury says, "People complain. They are not aware of how much oxygen is required by which patient. But at this moment, we are not facing any shortage of oxygen."

Kashmir reported 3,832 new Coronavirus cases and 47 deaths in the last 24 hours. Kashmir's active caseload stands at 180K.

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