Kashmiri innovators trying to rise to Covid-19 challenge hampered by lockdown, slow internet

Kashmiri innovators trying to rise to Covid-19 challenge hampered by lockdown, slow internet

SRINAGAR: In Srinagar’s Eidgah neighbourhood, 22-year-old innovator Waseem Nadaf has been tirelessly working on developing frugal, efficient, and quick solutions to the crisis of Covid-19. In less than a month, he has come with two ideas – a disinfectant machine, and masks that remain usable for a long time – ideas that he has submitted to the Government of India’s ‘Innovation Challenge’. What’s more, since Friday last week, he has taken up a project to make ventilators, which are much needed in hospitals and health care centers in Kashmir.

One of the two deaths from Covid-19 in Kashmir is reported to have taken place due to no ventilator support being available in hospital, according to a report in the Economic Times. For a population of eight million, there are just 132 ventilators, which are all in use, and mostly likely cannot be used for virus infected patients who need the device’s support. More than a month after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 as a global health emergency, the authorities in Kashmir are yet to get the 400 ventilators they had sought from New Delhi.

Keeping this in mind, Waseem sat down in a room, where in the last ten years he has developed 32 innovations most of which are in function, at his residence at Narwara in downtown’s Eidgah area, to make a prototype ventilator that could cost a few hundred rupees and be readied in a few hours’ time.

“My 85 percent of work on the ventilator is done, but Ambu bag, which is part of the ventilator I am developing, is not available with me. I managed the rest of the parts from home-made resources, but this one has to be bought. Getting Ambu bag is becoming difficult,” Waseem told Kashmir Reader.

On Monday, Waseem left his home to reach out to suppliers for the required part of the machine. Shut markets made him go to the suppliers at their residences, but restrictions imposed on the streets are delaying his objective to make the machine functional in the needed time period. He also landed at the office of an administrator of the valley’s main hospitals, who offered him the Ambu bag component with the condition that he should return it after use.

“It will be helpful, my work will be done, but the question is how to get it in bulk when the prototype becomes successful,” Waseem said.

The strict lockdown imposed by the government is also affecting the process of developing local innovations to meet the Covid-19 challenge, a move started by four Kashmiris, two entrepreneurs and two researchers, a few days ago.

According to Sheikh Fayaz, who works as an innovations researcher at a China university, the restrictions are jeopardising the efforts put across by people selflessly. Fayaz, who is part of the innovative challenge that offers prize money for local innovations, told Kashmir Reader that a lot of time is being wasted due to the restrictions. He said he cannot reach out to his two teams that are working at IUST University and NIT day and night for testing the prototypes. He has to move from Kupwara to Srinagar to Awantipora, a distance of more than 100 kms, and with scores of barricades to negotiate.

An unfortunate incident Fayaz experienced was when he was stopped by government forces when he had to reach Srinagar to meet his team. He was told to show his curfew pass, which he did not have.

“It was at the beginning, two weeks ago,” he said. “When I was stopped, I told the personnel about my nature of travel, but they did not relent. An officer told me to call the Deputy Commissioner and have him authorise his travel.”

Fayaz could not go to Srinagar that day. Two days later, he was given curfew passes for eight persons of his team, whose process was swifted by the intervention of Inspector General of Police, Kashmir. Now, nearly two weeks are gone but an application for more curfew passes for his another team is yet to be accepted.

“So, the work gets delayed because the team cannot move. They need to buy devices from the market, which are shut,” said Fayaz. “We need an enabling atmosphere. An SOP has to be made by the government so that we are able to purchase things and move around without hassles.”

The volunteer’s innovator challenge has received some 50 ideas from people to fight Covid-19, on aspects such as quick screening, rapid testing kits, personal protective equipment, designing supplies or devices which include face splash, masks and low-cost ventilators, innovative ways for supply and distribution of essential items, efficient handling and management of Covid-19 patients, and overcoming social stigma of infected patients.

“The applications get processed at a slow pace. Given the crisis we are in, the system is not helping,” he said.

Another challenge, Fayaz said, that his team faces is the slow speed of internet in Kashmir. He said his team has to regularly watch what is being done at various universities for fighting the virus, for which they need to download videos.

“This speed is not enough for research and development. The state’s systems should be robust to break the transmission chain,” Fayaz said.

Another volunteer team has already provided a frugal way of developing shields needed by doctors. They can now be produced in bulk and used anytime.

But the challenge, he said, is very complex. From testing kits to ventilators to protection gear equipment, all of them have to be produced locally given the shortage faced globally.

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