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How Mumbai NGOs are helping spread the vaccine safety net

As the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has made it compulsory for citizens across all age groups to have a prior online appointment for vaccination, several non-government organisations (NGO) and corporators have stepped forward to help slum dwellers who have no access to smartphones and internet or don’t know how to use the booking app or portal
By Mehul R Thakkar, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 11, 2021 12:59 AM IST

As the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has made it compulsory for citizens across all age groups to have a prior online appointment for vaccination, several non-government organisations (NGO) and corporators have stepped forward to help slum dwellers who have no access to smartphones and internet or don’t know how to use the booking app or portal.

The BMC, on May 6, citing overcrowding at several vaccination centres across the city, suspended the walk-in vaccination drive, and made it mandatory for citizens to register and book an appointment to take the jab. This came in the backdrop of a stampede-like situation reported at Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) jumbo vaccination centre.

Starting May 7, the BMC has been allowing only those with online appointments for vaccination, which has added to the struggle of senior citizens and those with no access to the internet.

Sachin Nachnekar from NGO YUVA, said, “The vaccine help desks in 12 slums of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region have reached out to 860+ people and helped 260+ people on board the Co-WIN platform since April 29. In Mumbai, we have set up help desks in areas such as Dahisar, Kandivli, Malad and Jogeshwari with 116 volunteers helping citizens.”

Maharashtra Peco Net – a group of NGOs, citizen volunteers, corporate and government bodies – have reached out to around 1.1 million citizens in the state and assisted around 77,902 citizens get vaccinated by setting up 51 vaccination help desks.

Poornima Nair, director-health & disability from NGO Apnalaya, said, “We are training around 20 volunteers who will tour Shivaji Nagar in Govandi, spread awareness about Covid-19 vaccines, manage misinformation of vaccines and lastly helping citizens register and book online slots. We are operating door-to-door and will cover a population of 52,000-55,000 citizens.”

Another NGO Alert Citizen Forum is also helping many get vaccinated by helping them book a slot online.

Several corporators across the city too have lent a helping hand to senior citizens and those who are not tech-savvy. Corporators across party lines are opening up tele-guidance and setting up help desks in their wards.

Abhishek Ghosalkar, former corporator from Dahisar, said, “I have formed a team of 10 youngsters who are available in my party office for four hours. In these four hours, we take requests from senior citizens or slum dwellers. Later, when the slots are open, we book slots for them. We help around 40 to 50 citizens in the 45+ age group daily… Earlier, we were arranging buses, but citizens did not show up for vaccination, and now citizens want to get vaccinated, but we are not able to ensure a slot to everyone. However, in the coming days, as more stock arrives, I will increase the number of volunteers to ensure more citizens get the benefit.”

As per the 2011 census, of the 12.4 million population in the city, over 4 million lives in slums and not everyone has access to smartphones.

Raees Shaikh, Samajwadi Party corporator from Mumbai Central, said, “Aadhaar card is not enough to get the jab. Rather, a car and high-speed internet are also a big necessity. It can’t get more elitist than this. When we talk about online registration and appointments, we are forgetting senior citizens, those who do not own a smartphone, and those residing in slums.”

Sandeep Patel, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) corporator from Goregaon, said, “Earlier, when walk-in vaccination was allowed, we used to ensure that senior citizens and every citizen who does not know how to go online and register gets vaccinated. We had set up a help desk to register citizens outside the vaccination centre in my ward. But today, nothing is in our hands and the complete system is online.”

Patel said, “I am getting calls from citizens in my ward that many from outside the ward are coming to the centres near their houses and are getting vaccinated. This is injustice to locals. We will have to allow walk-ins.”

On Monday, a BJP delegation led by leader of Opposition Pravin Darekar met municipal commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal to raise the issues of citizens.

Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner of the ward, which covers Dharavi, said, “We are taking help from NGOs and elected representatives for vaccination of citizens in Dharavi. Earlier, we organised buses for citizens to travel till vaccination centres, but now we are having a dedicated vaccination centre in Dharavi. NGOs are helping citizens complete the online registration.”

Prithviraj Chauhan, assistant municipal commissioner covering Chembur, said, “We are having citizen desks at ward offices and even vaccination centres are guiding citizens on how to book online. It is also expected that every house has at least one person who is tech-savvy. But all this will change once we have more vaccine doses and walk-ins will be allowed.”

On Monday, 31,043 citizens were vaccinated in the city, of which 4,837 were between the ages of 18 and 44, 11,047 in the 45-59 age group, 10,591 were senior citizens and the rest were healthcare and frontline workers.

The BMC said on Tuesday 16 additional vaccination centres will be made operational in the city from the 190 centres, as of Monday. The BMC has stock of around 100,000 vaccine does of which around 20,000 are Covaxin and the remaining are Covishield. Suresh Kakani, additional municipal commissioner, said, “The vaccination drive will continue on Tuesday and all those given appointments will be accommodated.”

Reacting on those who cannot book appointments online, state minister Aadtiya Thackeray said, “We are working on a way to make vaccines more accessible to people who are unfamiliar with technology.”

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