The internet shutdown in Kashmir may have led to the loss of several lives, doctors treating cardiac patients in remote villages of the newly-formed Union Territory have said. The #SaveHeart initiative, a WhatsApp group that functioned as a "virtual hospital" and was used by 1,200 doctors, has been defunct since August 5 - the date the centre suspended internet services and detained key political leaders in an attempt to quell protests against its decision on Article 370.
"We have tried to utilise WhatsApp to the maximum... that is saving a life. WhatsApp was a life saver for us. It was an additional shot in our arms... sort of a virtual hospital helping people from the Line of Control (LoC) to north and south of the region," Dr Nasir Shamas, one of the founders of the group, said.
The #SaveHeart initiative began three years ago and operates on a simple premise - as soon as a patient reaches a doctor (who is in the group), his/her ECG is uploaded to the group. After evaluating the file cardiologists in the group offer immediate advice on how to proceed and, potentially, save lives.
Doctors have demanded that the internet - which has now been blocked for more than 120 days - be restored so the group can be reactivated.
Last month Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament that internet services would restored when the "local administration is convinced".
"This group should be active... we should at least have broadband facility in district hospitals and tertiary care centres so doctors can communicate. We can only dream about mobile internet," Dr Irfan Bhat, a cardiologist at a leading government-run hospital in Srinagar, said, adding that the WhatsApp group has done wonders for cardiac patients.
The #SaveHeart initiative allowed doctors to handle nearly 40,000 ECGs; they said they were handling 50 calls per day, but not one after August 5. The group even saved the life of a Border Roads Organisation (BRO) official at 13,500 feet above sea level in Ladakh.
The impact of the internet blockade is visible on ground.
In a remote village in South Kashmir the family of Masrat Jan, a 40-year-old BJP sarpanch, is in shock after she died of a heart attack late Sunday night.
"At around 10.30 pm she began complaining of chest pain... we took her to Qazigund hospital, from where she was shifted to Anantnag. As I got some medicine, she collapsed and died," Mohammad Ashraf, her husband, said.
Doctors say the #SaveHeart initiative could have helped save Masrat Jan's life.