Amid Kashmir unrest, pregnant women look for safe routes to hospitals

Srinagar: Toufiq Rashid,The family of a 25-year-old woman is looking for a house on rent near a private maternity hospital in Srinagar where they

can move in when she enters her ninth month of pregnancy. Her baby is due in October.
The unique arrangement became necessary because of a massive security clampdown after Kashmir Valley plunged into unrest over the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani on July 8. The Valley was under curfew for 51 days and 71 people were killed in clashes with security forces.
Caught between stone-throwing protesters, security forces firing pellets, and unprecedented pickets and strikes by separatists, people are forced to adopt desperate measures in times of emergencies.
“We don’t want to get caught between stone-pelters and security men; and travelling in the night can be dangerous,” a member of the pregnant woman’s family said on Thursday.
The family from the outskirts of Srinagar, at least 10km from the hospital, didn’t wish to be identified.
Another young woman from downtown Srinagar lost her child on Wednesday. She was taken to the hospital on a bike when her labour started, but could not reach on time.
“After much argument with security forces and protesters, she made it to a tertiary maternity care hospital in Srinagar. Since her blood pressure was very high, she lost the child,” a neighbour said.
Doctors said high stress levels during the crucial hours can trigger complications for mother and child.
“Psychological stress of any kind, be it a stone, gun or grenade, has a debilitating effect on both mother and child,” said Farhat Jabeen, gynaecologist and head of the department at Lal Ded Hospital, Kashmir’s lone hospital exclusive for maternity care.
Jabeen says pepper and chilli sprays, and tear gas smoke can compromise oxygenation and raise blood pressure level, which can harm the unborn child.
Doctors said if pregnant women are deprived of proper nutrition — due to non-availability of food during curfews and shutdowns — the risk of preterm birth increases or the baby may have low birth weight.
The Lal Ded Hospital has of late recorded fewer patients from rural areas.
“People reach the hospital mostly on their own, but we have arranged for drop-back after delivery. The hospital provides meals for attendants as well,” medical superintendent Mushtaq Ahmad Rather said.
Naseema of Waskul village in north Kashmir’s Yusmarg was lucky to get a private vehicle to carry her to hospital in Magam, a few kilometres away. “From there we managed to get an ambulance to Lal Ded as she developed complications,” a family member said.
Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Hospital, a government-run facility in the Rainawari area of Srinagar’s old city, runs a busy gynaecology department. It has started an emergency ambulance service.
“We try to send ambulances when patients ring up and inform doctors about labour pain,” said Dr Tajamul Hussain Khan, the deputy medical superintendent.
A private maternity hospital in Srinagar has deployed additional staff as most admissions happen at night. “In some cases, patients and attendants come for admission one or two days before the due date to avoid trouble,” said Muzaffar Jan, the director of Modern Hospital, Rajbagh.
Earlier, he said, night admissions were generally emergency cases. But the risk of stones and pellets during the day has forced people to opt for the calm of the night to go to hospital for a safe delivery.