Srinagar: With the prescription of his diabetic mother placed carefully in a handbag, Sajid Ali went to over a dozen pharmacies in the neighbourhood on Tuesday in the hope of finding the medicine. All shops in his town, except the medicine shops, are shut. But Ali’s search yielded no results. Kashmir is fast running out of medicines.
Since August 5, the day Union government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Article 370, and divided the state into the two Union Territories, J&K and Ladakh — Kashmir is under a lockdown. Markets have been shut and the supplies of essential commodities are said to be affected in some areas.
Ali’s mother, Suraya Begum, 65, had only two days of medicine left. The gravity of the situation can be understood by the fact due to no public transport available in their area, Ali travelled to Srinagar after boarding an ambulance from a local hospital.
But the medicine couldn’t be found even in Srinagar, despite a search of over three hours. Angry and perturbed by the situation, Ali went to the Srinagar Airport, booked a ticked to Delhi and fetched the medicine from there.
Ali, 30, took the flight back the next day and reached his home with dose that would last his mother a month. His parents had been worried about his well-being and were relieved on his return.
When Ali, who is a businessman, narrated the story to his mother she broke down. “I managed to buy the medicine this way but what will poor people do?” Ali wonders.
The medicine suppliers in the Valley say they are running out of lifesaving drugs. The stocks have already dried up in rural areas, they said.
Malik Medical Hall is a known pharmacy in Uri, the last town in the north of Kashmir situated near LoC, but even there no important medicines are available any more. “We are running out of stock. We have not received any fresh supply since August 5,” said a salesman at the Malik Medical Hall. “We have only antibiotics left. There are no lifesaving drugs available.”
Every day, dozens of patients from remote places manage to reach to this medical store looking for medicine for blood pressure, diabetes, etc.
Patients are angry over the shortage of medicines. “I am looking for insulin for my father since the last one week but I am unable to get it,” said Mohammad Ismail, a resident of Namla Village in Uri.
The government is making claims about the availability of food stocks and the fuel but no one is looking at the shortage of medicine. “Availability of medicines is more important than other essentials,” rues Ismail, adding, “We are dying without the medicines.”
Mansoor Ahmad, owner of EFF AAY Pharmaceutical, a key distributor of medicines in Batamallu area of Srinagar, says, “We have only 30 per cent stocks left and no fresh supply is coming from Delhi. We are not even able to dispatch the available medicines to rural areas due to restrictions and lack of communication.”
Mansoor says Kashmir has never experienced such a crippling medical crisis in the last 30 years. The main problem that the medicine suppliers are facing is the blockade of communication.
“We are unable to contact our suppliers in New Delhi to place the orders,” Ahmad told News18. A few days ago, he travelled all the way to Jammu and placed an order. “We have received some stock but it is minimal. Even transporters are reluctant to take supplies to Kashmir, even on an elevated fare,” he said.
In rural areas, even something as basic as baby food is not available, some distributors claimed.
“While the Valley has faced troubled times in the past, such as the 2016 unrest, the medicine supply has never been affected so badly. This is a very grave situation,” said a doctor from Srinagar on the condition of anonymity. “People are dying due to the unavailability of medicines,” he said.
While medical officers in government hospitals in Srinagar refused to comment on the medicine supply, doctors in top hospitals said the inflow of patients who are on lifesaving drugs has increased.
“If people who are on lifesaving drugs don’t get their medicine on time for some time, they may die,” said a doctor from SMHS hospital.
While there is no exact data available on the number of deaths due to non-availability of medicines, there are some cases that have been reported.
Khurshee Begum, resident of a village in south Kashmir’s Anantnag, suffered an asthmatic attack on Wednesday. Her son immediately used the nebuliser only to realise that it was out of dose. By the time she was ferried to a hospital in the private car, passing dozens of barricades, Khurshee passed away.
“We tried every way to save her but we were helpless. There was no way to call for an ambulance,” said his son, wishing anonymity.
Her family blames the government for her death. “There are deaths taking place every day but no one is being held responsible,” said a doctor at the district hospital, Srinagar, who believes that Khurshee could have survived had there been medicine available in the nebuliser.
However, on Sunday the Jammu and Kashmir administration said that in Srinagar 1,165 out of 1,666 pharmacy shops have remained open. Kashmir has 7,630 retail chemist shops and 4,331 wholesale shops. On an average, 65 per cent remain open. The government also said that medicines worth Rs 23.81 crore reached the end user retail shops in the last 20 days, a number that is slightly higher than the monthly average.
All 376 notified drugs are available in government shops and private retailers, it said, adding that 62 essential/life-saving drugs are available, with a stock that is expected to last 15 to 20 days.
The average delivery time from placement of order is 14 to 18 hours from Jammu and most distributors are from Jammu. No cases of overpricing have been reported in the 72 test-check cases.
There was shortage of baby food in the Valley for nearly two days but fresh stocks have now been received and will last for a minimum of three weeks, the J&K administration said, adding that three persons each hae been stationed at Jammu and Chandigarh for a quick dispatch of medicines and baby food. The SDM East nodal officer from the area is coordinating supplies in the Valley.