Written by Shreya Panda, a grade 11 student.
The story of the continent’s most populated slum transforming from a coronavirus hotspot to a potential success story doesn’t just show the fantastic management by the State government officials, but also gives citizens hope for being able to get through this deadly pandemic.
When government officials first recognized a Covid-19 case in the Mumbai suburbs near Dharavi slums, they realized that their next move would determine the trajectory of the virus outbreak in India’s commercial capital.
Dharavi- Asia’s most crowded slum- packs a population the size of San Francisco in an area smaller than New York’s Central Park. In such a densely packed slum, where about eighty people share one public toilet, not only would the virus spread rampantly but also, home quarantine for those testing positive couldn’t be practically possible.
With people who earn about $2 a day, social distancing seems like a luxury they can’t afford. One can’t expect the residents to wash their hands frequently while paying 25 rupees for a gallon of water.
However, efficient management by the State government during this crisis is indeed laudable.
Authorities have knocked on around fifty thousand doors and set up fever clinics. Individuals showing symptoms have been shifted to quarantine centers like sports clubs and nearby schools.
Compared to early May, fresh daily infections have dropped down to a third, more than half of the sick are recovering, and the number of deaths plummeted this month.
“It was next to impossible to follow social distancing”, said Kiran Dighavkar, assistant commissioner of Mumbai’s municipality who is now in charge of the fight against Covid-19 in Dharavi. He further commented by saying that the only option left was to “chase” the virus rather than waiting for it to strike, to work proactively rather than reactively.
According to Dighavkar, the objective should be to limit the number of deaths. Even though the numbers of new cases were skyrocketing in the month of May, his team was dedicated towards continuing the screening and testing.
This strategic approach has helped reduce mortality and improve recovery. A strict lockdown, accessible testing,and on-site doctors are Dharavi’s key strategies.
Moreover, Dighavkar recognized that gaining the community’s trust was the most important aspect to containing the pandemic in the area. Small gestures by the authorities, like attending to the Ramadan requirements of those quarantined, helped in gaining the trust of the community.
Even as millions around the country are losing their jobs due to the nationwide lockdown,and reports are trickling in of people dying before they were allotted hospital beds, all in the isolation centers for Dharavi cases received medical supervision free of cost.
Dighavkar emphasizes that there should never be any pressure for keeping the number of cases low. The ultimate aim was to save lives and hence, the focus should be maintained on screening and timely treatment.
The officials were able to isolate people at early stages unlike the rest of Mumbai. About 51% of the slum residents who tested positive eventually recovered: better than Mumbai’s 41% rate.
The cooperation of the resident of the slum is also commendable. This dramatic improvement wouldn’t have been possible without people following the set norms.
With all that said, it has to be kept in mind that Dharavi’s fight against this deadly virus is far from over. After fully lifting restrictions, the risk of a second wave of infections is still present.
The bustling city lives of the people of Mumbai will come into motion soon, and it is our duty as citizens to do our bit by taking adequate precautionary measures. As Dighavkar accurately put it, “The battle can’t be over until the virus has gone from the entire city, state, and country.”
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