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Kashmir communications blackout is putting patients at risk, doctors warn

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l5204 (Published 19 August 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l5204
  1. Elisabeth Mahase
  1. The BMJ

Doctors have warned that the current situation in Indian administered Kashmir, where the government has imposed a security lockdown and communications blackout, is preventing people from seeking medical help.

In a rapid response sent to The BMJ,1 a group of 18 doctors from across India warned that the “grim” situation had led to a “blatant denial of the right to healthcare.”

In the letter, which has been coordinated by Ramani Atkuri, a public health consultant in Madhya Pradesh, the doctors called for the government to lift the restrictions immediately.

The lockdown came after the Indian parliament voted on 5 August to revoke Article 370 of its constitution, which gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir special status.

The government then sent tens of thousands of troops to the Kashmir valley to counter any unrest and imposed a curfew that meant that in some areas residents needed to show a curfew pass to leave their homes, even in the case of medical emergencies.2

Internet access has also been shut down in the area, which has stopped people communicating and caused havoc for shopkeepers and pharmacists who order their products online. It has been reported that vital supplies such as insulin and baby food are running out.3

In the rapid response, dated 16 August, the doctors warn of increasing shortages of drugs and problems with travel, including patients not being able to travel for routine care, people not being able to call for an ambulance, and staff struggling to get to work.

They wrote, “Some doctors worry about their patients on dialysis as only a few patients requiring dialysis from Srinagar [Kashmir’s biggest city] have been able to come for treatment, while those living outside have not been able to reach the hospital. Certain medications are out of stock in the local stores and there is at least one report of a person having to fly to New Delhi to purchase medicines for a sick relative.

“There are reports of other patients who have not been able to reach the hospital in time for their scheduled cycle of chemotherapy. The situation has also led to a lot of mental stress among a population already living with high levels of psychosocial stress.”

The group added, “In the current situation there is a blatant denial of the right to healthcare and the right to life. We call upon the Indian government to ease restrictions on communication and travel at the earliest . . . to allow patients to access healthcare without hindrance.”

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