MSF steps up with Emergency Response to violence

Providing Mental Health First Aid is a priority in this time of crisis

Reports Dilnaz Boga for

Srinagar, August 24: International non-government organisation Medecins San Frontieres (MSF), through its Emergency Response programme in Kashmir has uncovered some data about the recent violence in the Valley while administering Mental Health First Aid to victims of direct violence.

Mental Health First Aid has been defined as “the help provided to a person developing a mental health problem or in a mental health crisis. The first aid is given until appropriate professional treatment is received or until the crisis resolves.”

Since members of MSF have not been able to get around in the curfew, and because most of their work is largely dependent on out-door patients who visit their centres from all over the Valley, the team decided to venture to hospitals and assess the nature of injuries that the locals were turning up with, and provide Mental Health First Aid to victims of violence.

Said a team member, “We have met blast victims, those injured in the clashes by stones and gunshot victims in hospitals. We help of people who have undergone a big traumatic event.”

“From June, we have seen 86 patients and 355 family members or attendants. The total from February is 100 patients and 385 family members,” Sasha Matthews, Project Coordinator, MSF, in Kashmir, told Dilnaz Boga.

Matthews said that the recent bout of violence has given rise to a sudden a spurt in gunshot injuries, “Between August 6 and 14, we have seen a total of 58 injured patients. We have also provided psycho-education to 152 attendants. The average age of the patients’ age is 26. The youngest was 11 and the oldest was 60. The injuries that we came across were – 72% bullet injuries (42 cases), 12% tear gas (7 cases) and 9% beaten (5 cases).”

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Most of the injured, who had been brought to hospitals in Srinagar for treatment, hailed from Islamabad and Pampore. Matthews said, “There were also patients with multiple bullet injuries.”

Mental Health team leader Nasir Nazir Khan, who provides “emotional support” to young victims of violence, stressed on the importance of helping youth deal with trauma. “While dealing with victims of direct violence, we concentrate on the awareness aspect of the symptoms.”

In the current scenario, victims have been reporting to us with flashbacks and nightmares, which is normal, said Khan. MSF is focussed on alleviating the trauma in these victims of direct violence, their attendants and their families.

“When we make them aware that it is normal and they are not the only ones who are suffering from such symptoms, it helps. If the symptoms persist after 25 days of our intervention, then there’s a problem. We continue to provide emotion support to the victims and have received positive feedback from them and their families,” added Khan.

The support team visits the victim 48 hours after their first contact. “Even then, they are too stressed to listen. Then there’s a follow-up session three days later and then a week from then. At times there are six follow-ups,” explained Khan.

The team members also assessed the nature of difficulties faced by the locals in accessing healthcare because of the turmoil in the most troubled pockets of the city like Downtown and Batamaloo after establishing contacts with members of the mohalla committees, doctors and pharmacists.

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During medical emergencies, locals have had to negotiate with the security forces and stone-pelters, the team discovered. “Only one patient died as he was unable to make it to the hospital, we found,” he said.

MSF members also noted that there was no need for blood or drugs in hospitals at the moment. “The pharmacists have medicines and they refill their stock late evening or early morning. They also help with minor surgeries. The ICRC via the Red Cross just donated a big consignment of drugs too.”

At the Psychiatric Diseases Hospital, the management had a problem but MSF stepped in and helped them rent a bus to transport supplies. Said Matthews, “They had only one ambulance, which they were using to pick up and drop patients and material. So we rented a bus for them.”

With the current crisis still unfolding in this troubled region, the team members have an arduous task ahead of them.

Dilnaz Boga is a journalist from Mumbai. She is working as a journalist for Kashmir Monitor in Srinagar. She has also worked for Hindustan Times as Chief Copy Editor in Mumbai and in Mumbai Mirror as a senior copy-editor. Previously, she has also worked for a city-based newspaper, writing on issues like health, women’s and children’s issues, human interest, civic, education and crime. She has also covered conflicts in Kashmir, the North-East, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra for several publications. She completed her BA in English and Psychology from Sophia College, Mumbai University and her MA in English Literature from Mumbai University. In July 2004, she completed her MA in Peace and Conflict Studies with a distinction on her dissertation ‘Cycles of violence: The impact of human rights violations on the children in Kashmir’ from the University of Sydney in Australia. The following year she shot a documentary in Kashmir on the same subject titled, Invisible Kashmir: The other side of jannat (Heaven), which was screened at film festivals all over the world.