CHICAGO, Illinois — The Indian government has been imposing restrictions on wide-spread internet use in the territory of Kashmir since 2012, including a ban on social media sites, restricted internet and even a complete loss of internet access in some areas. The people of Kashmir are still experiencing wide-spread internet blackouts with a ban on 4G internet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lack of access to high-speed internet prevents citizens from accessing important COVID-19 information. In essence, Kashmir’s internet censorship is actively harming public health.
The History of Kashmir’s Internet Censorship
Kashmir has been experiencing internet censorship for years, but the most notable and longest internet blackout was imposed by the Indian government in August of 2019, primarily to stop the spread of misinformation about the government and prevent mobilizations.
This total communication shutdown put a halt to Kashmir’s e-commerce and the healthcare system. This incited pushback from citizens who rely on the internet to run their businesses or communicate with their doctors. During the internet blackout, critically ill patients could not access government healthcare or seek insurance reimbursements online.
Only 2G internet was restored in March 2020 with little success at reversing the damage done by the restrictions. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kashmir imposed a lockdown in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. With a hard lockdown in place, many people turn to the internet to buy essentials and medicine, communicate with healthcare professionals and even work remotely. Kashmiri citizens could not engage in these activities due to extremely slow internet speeds. Due to internet restrictions, doctors say that their access to global health information is extremely limited.
Using the Internet for Quality Healthcare
Quality internet service is essential for the health of a nation. People can find information about symptoms, preventive care methods and get in contact with a healthcare professional from home. This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic when new information about the virus updates on the internet in real-time. An internet ban prevents people from finding a doctor’s office or hospital near them.
Healthcare professionals also rely on internet services to communicate and share treatment plans with each other, maximizing the efficiency of their care. The internet is also needed for access to patient test results, other records and practical medical guidelines. Slow internet speeds can also dramatically lengthen the timeframe of healthcare communication between doctors and patients.
The Doctors of Kashmir Speak Out
Doctors in Kashmir are experiencing severe set-backs when it comes to treating patients with COVID-19. According to the New Humanitarian, doctors are having trouble downloading COVID-19 guidelines and other medical recommendations, directly affecting their ability to timeously treat patients.
Kashmir already struggles with an underdeveloped healthcare system. Reports are that less than 100 intensive care beds and ventilators are available for a population of around seven million. By not restoring high-speed internet, the Indian government is putting public health in danger. This puts a heavy burden on all healthcare workers fighting a rapidly growing pandemic.
Recommendations to Improve Public Health in Kashmir
Amnesty International India is an organization that focuses on restoring and upholding human rights laws in India. It has been pleading with the Indian government to restore 4G internet in all of Kashmir by directly addressing the government in statements detailing that high-speed internet is needed to ease anxieties and confusion about the virus.
Releasing health-based applications on cellphones would prove useful. This allows people to specifically connect to healthcare professionals and would work to ease anxieties by providing COVID-19 information and updates. It would also help people navigate their symptoms with guidance.
Using the internet to streamline healthcare comes with a variety of benefits for doctors and patients. The Indian government pushed back months of potential progress against COVID-19 with Kashmir’s internet censorship. However, it still has a chance to provide relief and boost public health systems with the restoration of 4G services everywhere.
– Julia Ditmar