Dharavi numbers drop in June, area no longer sealed zone

Published : June 16, 2020 00:00 IST

At a medical camp in Dharavi on June 10. Photo: VIVEK BENDRE

The number of COVID-19 cases in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum in Mumbai, dropped drastically in June and the area is no longer a sealed one.

From 491 cases in April and 1,216 in May, the number dropped to 274 in June. Data from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) showed the growth rate dropped to 1.05 per cent in June from 12 per cent in April.

Between April 1 and June 15, a total of 2,068 cases were reported, of which 1,040 patients recovered and 77 died.

Initially Dharavi was totally sealed. Later, some parts were opened; now it has been opened up completely.

A combination of containment, testing and guaranteed food and medicine supplies, along with intensive door-to-door surveillance and assistance from private agencies, helped bring down the numbers.

Physical distancing, a prime recommendation in containing the virus, is not possible in the slum where the average house size is 120 square feet, usually shared by four to 10 people. There are about 300 common toilets and 125 inside homes. The population density in Dharavi is 3.3 lakh people per square km, 10 times the density of Mumbai city.

The administration decided to chase the virus instead of asking residents to evade it through physical distancing.

In April, Kiran Dighavkar, Assistant Commissioner, G North ward and the man in charge of Dharavi, put together a team of 20 doctors, 50 nurses, 25 engineers, 170 health-care professionals, and more than 2,000 workers, many of them from Dharavi itself. The first goal was to prevent spread, and to achieve this, they sealed off zones where new cases were being frequently reported.

Simultaneously they provided people with rations, food and medicines at their doorstep in a bid to keep them indoors. The roads were sanitised every day and public areas and public toilets were disinfected daily.

Screening camps were regularly held where people were scanned for fever and blood oxygen levels. Suspected cases were moved to institutional quarantine. By mid-April, more than 37,000 people had been screened and 200 were found to be positive.

Five private hospitals were taken over to care for the critical cases. The Rajiv Gandhi sports complex, local schools and nursing homes were converted into quarantine centres.

Local doctors also participated by offering their services. Many visited private clinics as suggested by the BMC. Until now, volunteers and workers have done door-to-door surveys of more than 47,000 houses. Large-scale quarantining and identifying symptomatic patients at an early stage contributed to containing the spread.

The slum is not yet COVID- free but the fear that this densely packed area in the heart of the city would be a powder keg is no longer valid.

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