“They are our hope,” Local community and relief orgs’ in Kashmir answer SOS calls for medicine, oxygen

Volunteers of a local NGO SRO Kashmir carry oxygen cylinders for Covid-19 patients in Kashmir. | Picture by SRO Kashmir

Amid the present Covid-19 crisis, over two dozen NGO’s in J&K, especially in Kashmir valley, are working in the region by providing medicines, oxygen, and helping with the relief and rehabilitation of the needy people affected by the pandemic.

Auqib Javeed, TwoCircles.net

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Srinagar: At a time when health infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir is under strain due to rising Covid-19 cases, several local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and community organizations have stepped up to do relief work. 

Amid the present crisis, over two dozen NGO’s in J&K, especially in Kashmir valley, are working in the region by providing medicines, oxygen, and helping with the relief and rehabilitation of the needy people affected by the pandemic.

These NGO’s have set up control rooms where they attend hundreds of SOS calls for oxygen cylinders, food and medicine etc. 

As per reports, nearly all Intensive Care Units (ICU) beds in the valley are occupied by patients due to the massive surge in cases. 

More than 350 people have died this month due to Covid-19, and thousands of new cases are reported every day.

As per reports, the valley also witnessed deaths due to the lack of ICU beds in the hospitals. On April 29, a video of a young man pleading with the hospital authorities to shift his father, “struggling to breathe” to the critical ward, went viral on social media

The young man along with his sister were crying and begging for help until a social media storm finally reached the ears of SKIMS officials and the patient was shifted to ICU.

However, several family members of Covid-19 patients admitted at other hospitals, took to social media to seek help and highlight the shortage of ICU beds.

Several among those who highlighted these shortages included attendants of the patients, who said that doctors have expressed their inability to make the beds available to them.

In this scenario, it is the NGO’s that are working to fill in where the government has been unable to. From arranging free oxygen cylinders to drop the medicines at the doorsteps of people and arranging ambulance services, these NGO’s are doing it all. 

In March 2020 when the Covid-19 hit the region and the lockdown was imposed, Srinagar-based NGO Ehsaas International did the most challenging and demanding job of producing the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for the health workers and doctors. 

“We started with producing PPE kits since it was running short throughout India. We manufacture them and roped in several people, who worked 24×7 to produce good quality and quantity of PPE kits,” Hakim Mohammad Ilyas, a representative of the NGO told TwoCircles.net.  

Ilyas said they produced over 350 PPE kits per day and it helped the health workers in fighting the initial wave of the virus. 

As time passed, more and more cases were reported and the oxygen demand got high, the NGO launched “mission oxygen” and helped over 800 patients who were in dire need of oxygen by arranging over 50 oxygenic concentrators and cylinders.

As the second wave of the virus hit the region in April this year, the NGO’s came up with the telly-consultation where they get experts from the health department who guide and counsel the patients via phone calls regarding the virus. 

“Doctors from all over the world help the patients in fighting the virus. We get around 300 calls per day across Kashmir for the consultation,” Ilyas said.  

The NGO is working on a project of establishing four Covid hospitals in Srinagar Municipal Corporation’s (SMC) community centres and collaboration with Voluntary Medical Society (VNS).

He said over 200 doctors and paramedical staff had volunteered for the project.

Like Ehsaas, another NGO Help Poor Voluntary Trust (HPVT) is on its toes since the pandemic broke out and are helping people with ferrying Covid positive patients, medicines and oxygen cylinders. 

Mohammad Ali Lone from the NGO told TwoCircles.net that over two thousand patients are registered with the NGO, whose medical bills they bear. 

“The cost goes around 18 lakh per month. We have deployed over volunteers in six major hospitals in Kashmir, who help the poor with lifesaving drugs on discount rates,” Lone said.

Lone said for ferrying patients they have arranged a fleet of 11 ambulances laced with oxygen and other critical equipment.

“Right now we have procured over 150 oxygen cylinders and 64 oxygen concentrators and are in process of getting more,” Lone said.

The NGO’s have over 100 dedicated volunteers who work in shifts. They receive over 20 distress calls every day. 

Lone said the good Samaritans (who are Kashmiris) donate to the NGO wholeheartedly.

“Last week, a person donated 3.5 lakh for our oxygen program, another one donated 15 lakh for the same,” he said.

Amid an atmosphere of ‘hopelessness’ created by Covid-19, these NGO’s in Kashmir are turning Good Samaritan and are helping people in these testing times. 

Another prominent NGO that is working 24×7 is Social Reform Organization (SRO) Kashmir, which helps patients with oxygen supply.

In March 2020 when panic gripped people after the valley witnessed the first case of coronavirus from the Khanyar area of Srinagar city, the SRO Kashmir started working on Covid-19 mitigation efforts. 

Following the first case, the authorities put the entire city under strict restrictions sending people in panic mode. The restrictions on public gatherings, assembly and movement in many areas were aimed at avoiding the spread of cases.

Within days, the cases shot up. 

However, due to strict restrictions, people found it hard to buy essentials, and healthcare was affected too.

It was then that a Srinagar based businessman thought of doing something for the needy. 

Mohammed Afaaq Sayeed from Srinagar had a brainstorming session with his colleagues and friends which included doctors, journalists and other prominent businessmen. 

They decided to create a Facebook group named ‘Coronavirus Watch J&K’ and help people to fight the fallouts of the pandemic and to create awareness about it. 

“The response was overwhelming. Within a month we reached the membership of over 22,000 people,” Sayeed told TwoCircles.net.  

A volunteer of SRO Kashmir carrying food item to be provided to the needy in Srinagar. | Picture by SRO Kashmir

They would post guidelines related to coronavirus, suggestions from the doctors, Dos and Don’ts etc in the group.

People would seek suggestions for different ailments to which multiple doctors would respond online. 

The lockdown had broken the back of an already ailing economy, and many people were left jobless and found it hard to earn their livelihood.

The group started receiving many distress calls from people regarding the shortage of food and other essentials.

SRO Kashmir has done extensive relief and rehabilitation work during the massive earthquake that struck Kashmir Valley in 2005. 

They also carried out relief work during the 2014 floods when Srinagar was submerged in floodwater and everything had come to standstill. “The NGO (SRO Kashmir) was registered in the year 2006,” its chairman and one of the founding members Javid Ahmad Dar, a resident of Batamaloo told TwoCircles.net.

SRO also carried out relief work during the various unrests in the Kashmir valley in 2008, 2010 and 2016. 

As the second wave of Covid-19 hit the Valley, there was a huge demand for oxygen cylinders. The hospitals were unable to cater to the demand and people with Covid-19 symptoms felt the dire need for oxygen. It was at this time that SRO Kashmir chipped in and helped people with oxygen concentrators. 

They put aside all its programs and decided to work on the “Oxygen Kashmir” program. In its first attempt, the NGO procured around 200 oxygen cylinders. 

“We would get around 250-300 distress calls every day. People were in dire need of oxygen. And we kept ourselves on our toes and tried to fill the void,” Sayeed said.

Local people in the region have commended the efforts of these relief organizations for coming to their rescue during the present crisis. 

Imtiyaz Ahmad, a local trader from Srinagar said that “if not for these community organizations and the community consciousness among the society, people in Valley will not survive a day.”

“More and more people should help their effort by donating to them. They are our hope,” he added.