Republished from the IFJ Blog
As Kashmir locks down yet again – this time to contain the coronavirus pandemic – access to the internet can be a matter of life and death, quite literally. Dr Suhail Naik makes a compelling case for restoration of communication facilities to the region.
Following the identification of one confirmed case of Covid-19 in Srinagar, the Doctors Association, Kashmir (DAK) advised people to avoid hospital visits for minor and mild ailments. The association also established a Covid-19 online helpline to assess patients online or via telephone to decrease overcrowding in hospitals. As hospitals can easily emerge as an epicentre for highly virulent and fatal communicable diseases at these times, it is therefore the utmost responsibility of society to avoid hospital visits as much as possible.
We are of considered opinion that if just ten per cent of consultations could get digital, there would be 10,000 fewer face-to-face hospital visits per day. That in turn is going to be a major factor in containing Covid-19 transmission.
To save the public from this pandemic it is essential to educate them about the virus, its mode of transmission and methods of prevention – in their local languages. Because at the end of the day, it is the people of any nation and their discipline which can curtail and contain the spread of Covid-19.
The immediate need right now is that information about Covid-19 must reach every nook and corner. My doctors and paramedics are ready, but we desperately need 4G internet services. With 2G, which is all we currently have, we cannot upload video messages and subsequently people are unable to download and view them without buffering.
To mitigate risk further, a potentially suspected Covid-19 patient can be also assessed by online video assessment and accordingly be advised to self-isolate, go through testing or visit a hospital. These are standard practices being implemented by countries around the world that are proving very effective.
If any state is grabbed by a highly infectious communicable disease with a symptom spectrum ranging from mild nasal congestion to difficulty in breathing, then every patient developing respiratory symptoms simply cannot rush to hospitals and trigger a nation into panic. The overall damage, destruction and devastation caused by such panic will be a hundred times more than that done by Covid-19 per se. Therefore, it is mandatory for people to stay calm and disciplined during such trying times.
Historically, given its troubled history, Kashmir is famous for rumour mongering and it is therefore incumbent on medical doctors to combat rumours scientifically.
And it is the utmost responsibility of the government to consider restoration of high speed internet services after proper assessment of political and security scenario in Jammu and Kashmir UT.
In a significant policy change, NHS bosses in England directed their 7,000 general physicians to start conducting as many remote consultations as soon as possible, replacing patient visits with phone, video, online or text contact.
In light of the request from NHS England, the Digital Healthcare Council is now ready to support all digital health companies providing online NHS consultations to patients across the country to make sure patients are seen by a medical professional as quickly and safely as possible.
To keep continuous vigil on Covid-19 and to remain abreast with WHO and national guidelines high speed internet is the basic need of hour.
Our engineers from Kashmir have also showed willingness to create a health website for doctors to help us access, classify and manage large numbers of patients but, again, slow internet is the biggest hurdle to launch and maintain such an initiative.
In the past few weeks, online services have risen significantly in many countries, as people are eager to seek medical advice without wanting to go to a hospital.
One service, Médaviz – which allows you to contact your usual GP via video call – has had a 150% rise in registrations by doctors on its platform each week since Covid-19 hit; while the number of consultations with patients has more than doubled.
Another service, MesDocteurs, has said that since the beginning of February, its numbers have also risen significantly. Marie-Laure Saillard, director general of MesDocteurs, said: “Teleconsultations have risen by more than 40 percent.”
The move is likely to prove controversial because it will mean that many patients are unable to have a physical examination, risking that some symptoms go undetected.
The Royal College of GPs made clear that patients who still want to see a GP should be able to do so. But NHS England has started asking health technology firms such as PushDoctor, Babylon, Docly and Visiba to help surgeries put in place the equipment needed for a massive expansion in remote consultations.
In his televised address to the nation on March 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked people for their cooperation to tackle the pandemic and urged them to follow their responsibilities. Every Indian should be vigilant and avoid stepping out of their homes unless absolutely essential. Those over the age of 60 should remain inside their homes. He stressed that the nation should dutifully observe a ‘Janata Curfew’ (People’s Curfew) on Sunday, March 22 from 7am to 9 pm.
The prime minister also asked people to express gratitude to those working round the clock to keep India healthy (including doctors, nurses, paramedics, municipal staff, armed forces, airport staff).
But we doctors will be thankful to the Prime Minister if 4G internet services are restored in Valley.
Dr Suhail Naik was born in the hilly town of Shopian in South Kashmir. Dr Naik is senior consultant pediatrician, academician and is presently working in department of health and medical education Jammu and Kashmir. He is chief of the Doctors Association, Kashmir and is also a health columnist.