How Dharavi went from being coronavirus hotspot to success story
Spread over a little more than 2.1 square kilometers, Dharavi is home to some 8.5 lakh people. The houses are small, the population density high. Already dealing with poverty, Asia's largest slum became a coronavirus hotspot. But the same area which gave sleepless nights to officials has now taught richer cities how to flatten the curve. Here's taking a look at Dharavi's tale.
Even when the initial coronavirus cases were being reported in India and it was amply clear that Maharashtra would become a matter of concern, officials hoped to keep Dharavi immune, considering the lack of basic amenities there. However, on April 1, the nightmares turned true when the first patient was detected. He lived in Baliga Nagar, one of the poshest areas of Dharavi.
Reportedly, the index patient had hosted members of the infamous Tablighi Jamaat at his house. The person's close contacts were tested. On April 3, a third case was detected, that also had a Tablighi link. By May 9, Dharavi had 833 coronavirus cases and 27 deaths. The lockdown was clearly not working and guidelines of social distancing went for a toss.
After the early cases were detected, panic, naturally, took over Dharavi. The residents knew staying indoors is an ideal way to stop the transmission, but with no food and unbearable humidity, they were forced to step out. The nationwide lockdown, which was the strictest in April and May, had rendered thousands jobless. Locals depended on donations and food drives to fill their stomachs.
The area's leather, garment, and snack-making industry suffered and many didn't know where the next meal would be coming from. About the situation, 44-year-old Aslam Daulat Khan, who ran a community kitchen, told Indian Express in April, "Agar khana mil jaaye toh log baahar kyon niklenge? Maut se toh sab hi darte hain. [People are more afraid of dying of starvation than coronavirus]."
Cut to two months later, the panic has subsided, most of those infected by the virus have recovered, and it's doing better than affluent localities of the maximum city. The virus growth rate went from 4.3% in May to 1.02% in June. And as per IANS, Dharavi's doubling rate has become more than twice of Mumbai's. Just seven cases were reported on Saturday.
Bringing Dharavi back from the brink became possible due to concerted "chase the virus" program launched by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Since April, authorities have knocked 47,500 doors, screened almost 700,000 people, shifted symptomatic ones to sports clubs/schools, and set up clinics. On the strategy, BMC Assistant Commissioner Kiran Dighavkar said they went after the virus, rather than waiting for cases to emerge.
Explaining the steps, Dighavkar, who led the battle, told Bloomberg that the team was never worried about a rise in cases, keeping deaths minimum was the motive. He said if someone felt unwell, they could get themselves admitted at quarantine centers. This was different from the other parts of Mumbai where patients reached hospitals late. Coupled with strict lockdown and testing, this strategy worked.
Moreover, the BMC tied with Mahim Dharavi Medical Practitioners Association and members of Indian Medical Association (IMA) to mitigate the impact. Shivkumar Utture, a general surgeon who worked in the area, told Livemint the team roamed for some 10 days there to test people. Private doctors were given PPE kits, which emboldened their confidence to reopen clinics that had been shut since March.
When Dharavi faced a shortage of testing kits, it started using oximetres to judge oxygen levels among those getting tested. "Normally oxygen level should be around 98-100%. If it is less than this, then there is a high suspicion that the patient needs to be investigated. So we are catching hold of a lot of patients with low levels of oxygen," he explained.
Evidently, Dharavi's story gained accolades from even the Union Health Ministry. In a statement, Centre noted 80% of residents are dependent on community toilets, the lanes are narrow, and many people reside in small houses. But BMC's model of tracing, tracking, testing, and treating worked wonders, Centre recently said. While Dharavi has taught a lesson, the guards can't be let down, just yet!