How Dharavi started to report cases

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Published on Apr 28, 2020 12:42 AM IST
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ByMehul R Thakkar, Mumbai

At a time when even medical staff faces stigma, how has the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) managed to report cases from Dharavi, one of the country’s biggest slums where fear was a major factor, showing that it was one of the hotspots in the city?

The team of private doctors and BMC officials, who are doing the rounds of ground zero daily, say getting slum residents to share information or symptoms with the authorities has not been easy. Dharavi residents started to report symptoms only after the first lot of quarantined patients were discharged. In the past 10 days, the slum sprawl, which is home to around an estimated six lakh citizens, has recorded more than 150 positive cases.

A senior BMC official, who is part of the team of 24 private doctors, and around 10 to 15 civic officials told HT that getting accurate information was among the most challenging task in managing the outbreak, as residents didn’t want to divulge the truth fearing stigma.

Since April 9, the BMC has screened nearly 50,000 citizens so far; 275 people have tested positive, 14 have died and 10 patients from the slum have been discharged so far after their cure.

Tejaswi Kakade, 27, a medical officer with the BMC’s G/North Ward under which Dharavi falls, said, “We have been tracing high-risk contacts of those testing positive. We met with a lot of reluctance initially, but later trust was built between us and the residents. There was lack of awareness among citizens, but with the issue being highlighted everywhere, citizens now call us and inform us that they have developed symptoms.”

Kakade the joined BMC on March 9, just as the first case of coronavirus was reported in the state. Barely a week after she joined, the outbreak was evident in the city and she was assigned on the team. “It is difficult for us to go out in the heat wearing the personal protective equipment (PPE), ensuring we take enough precautions. It was also difficult to convince my mother. She is worried all the time, but my father is supporting me to screen more and more people. We are also planning to shift out of our house, and stay in separate accommodation provided by the BMC, considering we cannot risk the lives of our family members, even if there is a minimal chance of transmission.”

Another medical officer Nazish Shaikh, 33, who is involved in screening of residents in Dharavi, said, “It is not easy to screen those residing in narrow lanes, while maintaining social distance. We had to seek help of locals as Dharavi is a maze, and there are chances of us getting lost. There are certain pockets where residents can speak only their mother tongue. We had to rope in someone who could translate for us.”

The BMC is now relying on around 350 private clinics opened in the area for the people to report the symptoms themselves. Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner, BMC, said, “We are going to keep around 350 private clinics open, where citizens will definitely come with their illness, and from there, we have developed a mechanism to trace positive patients.”

Dr Anil Pachnekar of Dharavi-Mahim Medical Practitioners said, “It is very difficult to go door to door in this heat wearing PPE, and hence all private clinics now will be opened up. If we come across any suspects, they will be referred to the BMC for testing.”

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