Twenty doctors issued an open statement on Thursday, expressing concern about the public health situation in Jammu and Kashmir. This came days after a group of 18 doctors published a letter in medical journal The BMJ, expressing similar concerns.
The signatories said people in the state had been finding it difficult to access basic healthcare and emergency services since August 4, when the Centre cut off communication networks in the state. The following day, it revoked the state’s special status. Some restrictions have been eased, especially in Jammu, but the Kashmir Valley remains in lockdown. Several political leaders – including former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – are still under house arrest.
“We request that Indian professional bodies of Medicine, Surgery, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Pediatrics, Critical Care, Chest medicine, HIV, Tuberculosis, Psychiatry etc coordinate with the government to put together teams of doctors to understand and address current issues in Jammu and Kashmir to ensure that there are no gaps in service provision,” the signatories said.
The doctors criticised the Indian Medical Association for condemning British medical journal The Lancet for its editorial piece on Jammu and Kashmir, instead of putting together a team of doctors and paramedics to address any health concerns in the state. “It is amounting to interference into an internal matter of Union of India,” the IMA had said in reference to the editorial. “The Lancet has no locus standi on the issue of Kashmir.”
The doctors said restricted mobility has affected services such as immunisation programmes, obstetric emergencies, and supply of medicines and other materials to hospitals. It was also difficult to handle an outbreak or an epidemic that has the potential to spread rapidly, they added.
Children suffer from malnutrition in situations such as the one prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir at present, they said. “Many residents are unable to access basic foodstuffs and gas for cooking,” the doctors added. They pointed out it can have fatal consequences for those with underlying medical illnesses such as diabetes, and liver and kidney diseases.
“Gastrointestinal diseases like hepatitis and cholera can occur when public health systems are compromised,” the letter read. “Not anticipating these and exposing communities to the risk of such outbreaks is a violation of natural duties of the government.”
The signatories said the use of pump-action guns on unarmed civilians and children can cause permanent disabilities, and violate human rights. “International groups such as Doctors against Torture have been vocal against capital punishment and government sponsored violence,” they added. “It is unfortunate that professional groups in India have not been very vocal against pellet guns being used against citizens.”
The doctors said the rights of citizens of Jammu and Kashmir to healthcare and right to life were being compromised. “The professional health bodies of India should affirm basic rights of the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir, to communication and access to all levels of primary, secondary or tertiary healthcare, both private and government. Professional bodies should demand that the communication blockade in Jammu and Kashmir has to be urgently and completely removed,” they added.
They said it was the government’s responsibility to provide healthcare to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Health activists, academics call abrogation of Article 370 arbitrary
In another statement, health activists, academics and several other individuals said they were deeply concerned about the “arbitrary abrogation” of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, the bifurcation of the state and its conversion to a Union territory. “This was done without a semblance of consultation with the people of Jammu and Kashmir, in violation of the right of self -determination of the people of the state and in absolute contempt for constitutional and democratic processes,” the signatories said.
The signatories said that the security clampdown in Kashmir, which consisted of arrests, shutting down of all communication services, “enforcing silence” and preventing movement of people as well as supply of essential commodities has led to “absolute disruption of life”.
The health activists said they were concerned about access to medical services, as well as reports of life-saving medicines in short supply, pregnant women having to travel long distances on foot. “Patients suffering from cancer are finding it difficult to access life-saving chemotherapy,” the statement read. “Patients on dialysis are unable to make it to the hospitals. On the other hand, patients discharged from hospitals are unable to return home due to lack of transport.”
“The current situation is a blatant denial of the human rights to health and life, guarantees enshrined in the Constitution of India, including Article 21,” the signatories said. They demanded that the Centre allow people access to healthcare and healthcare facilities by removing hurdles to transportation, remove the curfew, prohibit use of pump action guns, and withdraw the media blackout and restrictions on news telecasts.
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