If the BMC does contain the virus spread in Asia’s largest slum cluster, then it would be a rescue template like no other
Dharavi, Asia’s largest and clustered slum, has registered three cases of Coronavirus and unfortunately, one death as well, taking India’s battle against the virus to another level altogether. An Armageddon we are not ready to fight just yet but our containment drill now will be to identify, isolate and choke clusters considering the density of population and the less than standard safety and hygiene protocols. Dharavi is home to a whopping one million slum-dwellers crammed in a roughly five-square-kilometre maze of narrow lanes, ramshackle buildings, shanties and open sewers. With families of six-seven people packed like sardines in tiny quarters, social distancing is a privilege none can afford. Such community clusters may just be our Achilles’ heel in the fight against the rapidly-spreading Coronavirus that has ferociously battered the entire human population of the planet. Given the rate of the disease spiral, community transmission is a given, at least in such contiguous settlements.
Urban slums are indispensable to the economy of the country as a vast percentage of daily-wage labourers, industrial workers and domestic help live here, keeping the service economy going. They represent a valuable human resource. Water sources and sanitation facilities are shared by multitudes of people and existence is by the brush of the skin. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has quarantined and stamped all the people who may have come in contact with the victim but tracing people who float in and out is still a humongous challenge. The BMC swung into action quickly, in alliance with the police, fire brigade, doctors and healthcare workers called the Contain Dharavi Operation. This multi-pronged strategy didn’t let up for 24 hours at a stretch. They immediately separated people above 60 who were also suffering from some respiratory diseases and tested them. In fact, if more positive cases show up, they will test all 125 senior citizens in the vicinity. The affected, the senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions will be moved to the district sports complex if need be. This micro pin-pointing is arduous and meticulous but is our only hope to stave off a human disaster. It is through non-pharmaceutical means, lockdowns, testing and isolation through which we can contain and confine the malaise, may be delay its inevitable spread. With even developed countries such as the US, Spain and Italy being overwhelmed by the pandemic and their healthcare facilities facing a crisis, we need intense community vigilance. With rapidly-increasing numbers of positive cases being reported every week, it is estimated that our hospitals will be overwhelmed by the end of May or even sooner considering that the number of hospital beds per 1,000 people in India is only 0.7, compared to 11.5 in South Korea. What’s equally alarming is the fact that some States could reach the point where they don’t have enough hospital beds to treat critical COVID-19 patients much sooner than others, notably Kerala, Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab. This is a time for sharing resources and expertise and while we have to shut out the world, States and the Centre need to pool in and share resources to save our communities.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)