A clampdown on communications services in Indian-administered Kashmir leaves pharmacists unable to contact their suppliers.
Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir - Mushtaq Ahmad set out from his village in northern Tangmarg on Saturday for the arduous journey to India-administered Kashmir’s biggest city of Srinagar in order to find medicine for his niece who suffers from heart problems.
The journey from Tangmarg to Srinagar was complicated by the absence of public transport, as Indian authorities have imposed strict measures restricting the movement of civilians.
But even after reaching the city in an ambulance and searching through a dozen pharmacies, he could not find the drugs he needed.
“I looked for medicine for my niece but I couldn’t get it. It’s difficult to travel in these circumstances,” he said.
“I came here in an ambulance but don’t know how I’ll get back. I’m upset that I couldn’t buy her the medicine….it’s very important, she suffers from a major heart problem.
Kashmir has been cut off - internally and from the outside world - since August 5 when the Indian government announced the abrogation of a law which had protected the demography of the Muslim majority region for lasts seven decades.
In the aftermath of India’s Article 370 announcement, Indian officials imposed a blanket telecommunications ban, shutting off internet services and phone lines for millions of Kashmiris.
The move has left pharmacists unable to keep in touch with distributors to ensure the delivery of medicines. This has led to severe shortages of medicine, further compounded by the panic buying that preceded the announcement.
TRT World spoke to more than a dozen pharmacy owners in the region, who said it was impossible to reach their suppliers.
“People are travelling long distances to look for medicine and we are unable to help them,” said Riyaz Ahmad, who runs a pharmacy outside the region’s largest maternity hospital, Lal Ded.
“Within six days we started facing a shortage of medicine, as we weren’t able to call the distributors,” he said.
Mukhtar Ahmad, 32, who runs a pharmacy in Srinagar, said he was running low on supplies of multiple types of insulin, baby food, Atropine, and Efcorlin injections.
“If a newborn baby does not get paracetamol when it needs it, even that is lifesaving at the time,” Mukhtar said.
He explained that people visiting his stores from nearby villages had told him that even blood pressure medication was unavailable.
Muhammad Asif, a kidney transplant patient, told TRT World that he was unable to get medicines such as Biomus, Tacrolimus, Zymurine.
“They aren’t available anywhere. You get these drugs from specific places and with restrictions like this, it’s difficult to go anywhere and the shops are also closed.”
The suspension of communication in the region has also meant that emergency cases could not call ambulances over the past two weeks.
The Indian government has since restored communications services in a small number of areas, but the vast majority are still without services.
No baby food
Manzoor Ahmad accompanied his sister who was in labour to one of Srinagar’s major maternity hospitals. That was only after going to another hospital in a sub-district, only to find it without any doctors.
“It was the evening of Eid and there were no doctors there. So they gave us an ambulance and shifted us here,” he said.
Manzoor worries that with the birth of the baby, the shortage of baby food and formula milk will continue.
“We don’t have a supply of baby milk and food like SimilacNeosure, SimilacAdvance. We had a supply in the beginning but now we are short of many medicines,” he said.
The Indian government said: “Steps were taken that there is no shortage of essential supplies, medical facilities and hospitals continued to function, electricity and water supply and sanitation services are maintained.
“Periodically, there were relaxations in some of the restrictions to enable people to come out for the daily requirements”.
However, despite the reassurances by Indian officials that measures are in place to prevent shortages, they haven’t materialised for everyone on the ground - even in India-administered Kashmir’s largest city.