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Woman in Active Labour Travels 100Km for Delivery in Kashmir Amid Red Zone Stigma, Changing SOPs

Representative image.

Representative image.

Now tested positive for Covid-19, an endless rigmarole caused due to reluctant medical officials and unclear administrative orders, caused Shada* to travel from hospital to hospital to receive the appropriate healthcare.

Srinagar: It is said that nothing is more excruciating than labour pain. But Shada's* turmoil has not ended even after delivering her child.

Now tested positive for Covid-19, an endless rigmarole caused due to reluctant medical officials and unclear administrative orders, made her travel for 100 km in an active labour condition to deliver her baby.

Shada is a resident of Telwani in Anantnag, which has been classified as a coronavirus red zone. She was at her parents' house in Shergund when she began experiencing labour pains.

Her husband, Javed* took her to a nearby government primary health care centre in Shangus at around 8 pm on Friday. There, doctors told the couple to go to Achabal, which is located 8 km away.

"We were put in an ambulance and when we reached Achabal Hospital, there was a male doctor who referred us to the Maternity and Childcare Hospital in Anantnag," Javed said.

However, that was not the end of the road for the suffering pregnant woman.

At Anantnag, the couple was told that red zone patients were not allowed, and again referred them to the SKIMS Medical College in Srinagar. The staff refused to even check the condition of Shada before declaring their verdict.

The couple reached SKIMS in the dead of the night at 1.30 am, to again be sent back. The callous refusal to even take a look at Shada continued here as well.

"They did not look at Shada and told us to go to Lal Ded hospital. They said this hospital was for Covid-19 patients," Javed said.

They reached Lal Ded hospital at around 2 pm. Shada was admitted and she delivered her baby on Saturday.

But the happiness was short-lived. A call would bring bad news for Javed; her wife had tested positive for the novel coronavirus disease.

Soon, they were put in an ambulance and taken to a special Covid-19 hospital in Bijbehara, Anantnag.

Consequently, ten medical staff, including two doctors were quarantined at the Lal Ded Hospital.

A doctor from Lalded Hospital said -- "We are not supposed to take patients from red zone areas but the patient's attendant did not tell us about their actual residence. Also, how can one send back a woman in labour pain who has come from a village 100 km away."

"Where could she have gone," he said, adding that it was a normal delivery and should have been dealt with in Anantnag, but that despite Standard operating proceedures (SOPs) issued, they avoid cases from red zones.

It is not the first time that medical and child healthcare has been denied to red zone patients at Anantnag Hospital.

Reports of such incidents have repeatedly surfaced after a woman and her twins died there, later testing positive for Covid-19.

An investigation against the hospital administration, for flouting Covid protocol, is ongoing.

On April 25, the hospital administration had handed over bodies of the previously mentioned woman and her twins, without waiting for their coronavirus test results. This exposed about 500 people, who attended their last rites, to the risk of infection.

The principal of the Government Medical College, Anantnag, says that normal delivery cases should have been taken care of in the District.

He blamed the Department of Health Services but says nothing about frequent referrals from the hospital that is under his administrative control.

He said the SOPs had been issued by the government as recently as Saturday, to handle such cases.

The Principal of SKIMS Medical College Hospital in Srinagar, Dr Reyaz Untoo said they were following the SOPs. "We have been told to take care of Covid-19 cases only," he said.

"Earlier there was a direction that we should take in both suspects as well as positive cases as far as pregnant ladies are concerned but not now," he said.

Many hospitals in the valley have been converted into Covid hospitals, however, directions for other patients remain unclear on the part of the administration; resulting in suffering.

Till May 1, there had been one SOP issued which was then replaced. It said that pregnant women from red zones will be handled in their respective districts.

Despite some hospitals being designated for the purpose, the on-ground situation remains dismal.

Red zone patients continue to be referred to Lal Ded Hospital, putting other patients and medical staff at risk.

On Sunday, two pregnant women were referred to the Lal Ded hospital from red zone areas of South Kashmir even after the new SOP was issued.

Doctors at various districts -- particularly in maternity wards -- have been complaining and protesting against the non-availability of appropriate protective gear.

The blame game does not stop, while pregnant women continue to suffer in the valley.

*Names have been changed to the protect identity of the sources.