The burn ward of SMHS Hospital here symbolizes the increasing domestic violence in Kashmir as 11 severely burnt women battle for their lives.
The space and resource-constrained ward struggles to cater to the load of such patients coming from all districts of Kashmir and even from Jammu, as the state government sits on the sanctioned Rs 4 Cr project under National Burn Prevention Programme of Government of India.
As soon as one enters the ward, the smell of burnt flesh coupled with the swollen, disfigured bodies of women who must have been beautiful before the flames devoured their chances of life, sends a chill down the spine. Several of these women claim that they got burnt due to a fire caused by a kerosene stove explosion; a statement that medico-legal experts say is not in-line with the pattern of their burns.
“These women are pressurised by relatives or circumstances and they never blame their injury on anyone,” said a staff member at SMHS Hospital. “Police comes sometimes in a casual way and records statements. No effort is made to investigate the cases,” she added.
All beds of the 30 patient capacity ward are occupied, and the additional seven burn victims are admitted in the casualty ward of the hospital. Although the authorities try to minimise the chances of infection, there is no such mechanism in place in the casualty ward. The uninhibited inflow of attendants in the casualty ward is an infection threat to the burn patients in absence of skin that acts as a barrier against germs.
In 2013, GoI under the National Burn Prevention Program approved upgradation of SMHS Burn Ward and sanctioned a grant-in-aid of Rs 4 crore with an additional maintenance cost component too. An MoU was signed between the state government and MoHFW. However, two years have passed and no progress has been made on getting the funds for the hospital resulting in severe shortage of beds especially when SMHS houses the only Burn Ward in Kashmir and is the sole treatment facility for all burn patients.
A senior officer in Health and Medical Education department blamed the Jammu vs Kashmir resource tussle as the reason for delay. “The health ministry wanted a Burn Unit for GMC Jammu also and therefore this file (GMC Srinagar Burn Unit) is not moving ahead,” he said. He added that many attempts from GMC Srinagar to fast-track the formalities of setting up the Burn Unit have been scuttled and sabotaged by a ‘particular lobby’ in bureaucracy.
According to the records of GMC Srinagar, about 300 burn patients are admitted in the Burn Ward every month. The number, as per the records, goes beyond 400 in winters. “Kashmir has a severe winter, burns due to heating sources such as kangri, carbon fueled bukharis and plastic drums used for heating water using an electric boiler by economically disadvantaged are a cause for many accidents,” said a doctor in SMHS Hospital.
The delay in completion of Super Specialty Hospital at Shireen Bagh, that had a Department of Plastic Surgery with a dedicated theater, is proving fatal for burn victims. A doctor at the hospital said, “We are not able to save as many patients as we could have if we could operate the patients in time.” The non-availability of skin culture for grafts and once-a-month turn in the SMHS theater for plastic surgery is detrimental to the survival chances of patients.
“Often, we just watch them die as we don’t have much here,” said a Medical Officer in SMHS Hospital. There is just one ventilator in the Burn Ward. Children with burns are moved to GB Pant Hospital when in a critical condition.