Opinion

Blocked Artery Declogged

4G after 18 months brings cheer, but no assurance that it won’t be snapped again

Blocked Artery Declogged
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Messaging apps of ­cardiologists in Kashmir are abuzz with texts from doctors seeking advice on treatment of heart ailments. The Doctors Association of Kashmir claims this winter saw a 53 per cent rise in heart attacks. “Restoration of high-speed internet has made it easier for doctors to seek expert advice by making video calls or uploading ECGs quickly,” says Dr Irfan Ahmad, a cardiologist at Government Medical College (GMC), Srinagar. Dr Ahmad is a member of the Save Heart Initiative, a WhatsApp-based network that enables cardiologists to suggest lines of treatment to doctors in both rural and urban areas in Kashmir after looking at ECGs. “With 4G internet back, we can ­demonstrate basic lifesaving procedures to doctors through video calls,” says one of its founders, Dr Imran Hafeez, a senior consultant at the cardiology department of Srinagar’s Sher-e-­Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences.

Around 38,000 ECGs were ­examined and 1,000 cases of major heart attacks detected between November 2017, when the Save Heart initiative was launched, and August 4, 2019, when the communication blockade of J&K began a day ahead of the abrogation of Article 370. More than 1,200 doctors from 130 ­hospitals across the erstwhile state, mostly from places where specialists are unavailable, participated in the initiative. “4G access is of great value to doctors and patients in areas cut off from the rest of the Valley,” says Dr Ahmad. “With ­expert advice just a video call away, minor emergencies could be treated at rural hospitals too, minimising ­unnecessary referrals to tertiary care hospitals in Srinagar and reducing the pressure on them.”

Landlines in J&K were restored on September 5, 2019, and post-paid mobile services on October 14. Then, on January 25, 2020, after the Supreme Court’s intervention, 2G internet was ­restored with access to a limited number of ‘white-listed’ sites. During the Covid lockdown, low internet speed made it difficult for patients to send their diagnostic reports to doctors. In March 2020, when Kashmir saw its first Covid case, Dr Iqbal Saleem, a professor of surgery at GMC, tweeted:  “This is so frustrating. Trying to download the guidelines for intensive care management as proposed by doctors in England. It is…24 MB. It has been one hour…still not able to do so.” Low internet speeds also adversely affected online education of children, forcing many parents to opt for JioFiber broadband connections.

4G internet was restored on February 5, 2021, after the government issued an ­advisory that only 2G services would be available for another fortnight. This ­triggered speculation that the move was meant to spruce up the Centre’s image, which has taken a beating due to ­protests against the new farm laws. Whatever the motivation, however, the return of 4G has brought cheer to people from all walks of life in Kashmir.

“4G will help our students who have been at a huge disadvantage over the past so many months,” says G.N. Var, who heads the Private Schools Association of J&K. “Snapping high-speed internet was a collective punishment imposed on millions of people for 18 months, which pushed us back by many years. Our schools and other ­educational institutes suffered as ­nobody could work at their optimum. But the government has shown no regret. Of course, no one can undo the huge ­psychological and academic loss, but the government should consider compensating the people for the financial loss caused by the internet shutdown. Thousands of jobs were lost. Thousands of opportunities for our students vanished in thin air. The expenses of our schools doubled and productivity went down. Who will pay for it and is there a guarantee that the government will not snap the internet again?” There’s no ­assurance indeed. The day 4G was res­tored, internet was snapped in south Kashmir citing threat to law and order.

By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar

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