Asia's biggest slum contains Covid-19

In a major success story, Mumbai's sore underbelly - Dharavi - has made a dramatic return from the brink in the ongoing fight against Covid-19.

According to the latest official data released last Sunday, the doubling time of coronavirus cases in Asia's biggest slum has become more than twice that of Mumbai city as a whole.

A series of stringent preventive measures and combat strategies have helped turn the tide.

"The Dharavi tension is off our heads now. We have worked really hard to bring it to this level and it has given excellent results with the local people's full support," said an elated Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar.

She said that the multi-pronged strategy also involved isolation in large numbers to "break the chain".

"I am confident that the situation in Dharavi will improve even further in July. This will give us time to concentrate on the eastern and western suburbs of Mumbai which are causing concern," said Mrs Pednekar.

Dharavi, in south-central Mumbai best known as the setting for the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, has a population of over 500,000 crammed in a 2.25 square kilometre area, making it the most congested place on earth.

While the doubling rate of Covid-19 cases in Mumbai is 34 days, in Dharavi it is 78 days, according to the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Union Health Ministry.

The first Covid-19 case and death from Dharavi was reported on April 1 - three weeks after Mumbai's first case and two weeks after Maharashtra's first fatality.

During April, the cases in Dharavi shot up to 491 - at a growth rate of 12 per cent and a doubling period of 18 days.

But, after the proactive measures adopted by the BMC, the growth rate came down to 4.3 per cent in May and to 1.02 per cent this month.

Similarly, the doubling time improved from 18 days in April to 43 days in May.

Till Wednesday, Mumbai had 69,625 cases and 3,962 deaths. The coronavirus has overwhelmed Mumbai's public health system, with maxed-out hospitals forced to turn away patients.

Dharavi's figures were 2,199 cases and 81 deaths. There were only 274 new cases and six deaths in Dharavi this month.

The challenges BMC workers faced in Dharavi were enormous.

On an average, eight people cram a tiny hutment in the slum.

Hundreds use common toilets and water taps and on the narrow lanes two people have to turn sideways to pass.

"These conditions posed severe limitations on imposing physical distancing and home quarantine, since many homes also doubled as workplaces or mini-factories," said a BMC officer.

The BMC adopted the Tracing, Tracking, Testing and Treating method.

Its healthcare workers screened over 47,500 people living in Dharavi and set up clinics for high-risk categories.

More than 8,240 senior citizens were identified and separated from the others to arrest any chance of the infection spreading.

Suspected cases were immediately shifted to well-organised Covid Care Centres or Quarantine Centres set up in schools, marriage halls and sports complexes.

The BMC also provided an uninterrupted supply of essential goods, grocery kits and lunch and dinner packets.

"Dharavi had put in place excellent contact tracing, isolation and quarantining measures," said Mr Ramanan Laxminarayan, founder of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy in Washington.

"It is possible that the compact geography enabled a greater level of coordination than in other places."

Indo-Asian News Service


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