As Coronavirus pandemic started slowly spreading in Kashmir, the government and health department approached universities for highly specialised equipment such as “PCR”- or polymerase chain reaction-machines to use them for COVID-19 tests.
The administration also sought assistance from research scholars in the testing. The universities stepped in providing the machinery and the manpower.
Doctors say this move is helping significantly in battling the virus.
On Friday, when the Chest Disease Hospital in Srinagar disclosed that it had conducted 619 coronavirus tests, highest so far in a single day in Jammu and Kashmir, Nodal officer for COVID-19, Dr Salim Khan, said this couldn’t have been possible without the help of the universities in Kashmir region.
“The faculty and research scholars of the University of Kashmir and (SKUAST) the Sheri Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology have volunteered to be part of COVID-19 labs at the Government Medical College Srinagar and SKIMS (Sheri Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences). They came forward wholeheartedly while understanding the risk of working with the live virus causing COVID-19. They are the role models,” says Dr Khan, who is head of the department of community medicine, at the government medical college Srinagar.
The government approached the universities after its slow uptake of testing in Jammu and Kashmir was being criticised by public health experts.
The experts, despite the government circular that they shouldn’t air “grievances” on social media, argued that aggressive contact tracing and large-scale testing would only help tame the epidemic. Surprisingly for the government, scientists and research scholars at the universities with a background in biotechnology, chemistry were more than willing to contribute.
“There was communication from the health department that if the universities could help in COVID-19 testing in terms of providing equipment and other assistance. We said we can as we have resources and manpower," says Dr Altaf Bhat from Biotechnology Department of the University of Kashmir. He adds, "We took the health department team to departments like biotechnology, biochemistry and clinical-bio chemistry. Then we provided them with equipment such as RT-PCR machines. For testing, you use these machines. We also provided them with high-speed refrigerated centrifuge. In addition to that, we provided other small equipment,”
He said that at the second stage, the university circulated message among research scholars and a number of them came forward voluntarily. Around 70 per cent of the staff and equipment was provided by the department of biotechnology of the University of Kashmir alone.
“We have research scholars in this department who would use these machines on a regular basis and they volunteered for the job,” he says.
“Our machinery and scholars play crucial in role in increasing testing,” says Dr Bhat.
Dr Khan said they would be further increasing testing capacity for COVID-19 in coming days.