When a 56-year-old man died on 1 April in Dharavi, the first covid-19 death in Asia’s largest slum, panic ensued. Though Mumbai had reported 181 covid-19 positive cases and nine deaths by then, it was Dharavi that the government did not want to take a chance with.
But the virus had spread. “We knew if the virus spread further, it would be catastrophic. So, our team of Mahim Dharavi Medical Practitioners’ Association and the members of Indian Medical Association, together 25 doctors, roamed for 10 days in the major hotspot areas of Dharavi, testing thousands of residents,” said Dr Shivkumar Utture, a general surgeon practising in the area.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) tied up with the team, isolating and quarantining potential cases. The municipal body also supplied free personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to private doctors, giving them confidence to open their clinics which were shut since March.
“So, while in April, only two or three clinics were open in Dharavi, now we have over 100 clinics open. This gave us the strength to detect more cases,” Utture said.
Since late May, Dharavi has seen falling new cases and lengthening doubling rate. While average new cases have come down from 47 in May to 27 in June, the doubling rate of cases has risen to 44 days against 21 days as of 24 May.
So far, 1,964 positive cases and 73 deaths have been recorded from Dharavi and at least 939 people have recovered from the disease.
“Our aggressive testing and screening of people through fever clinics helped in tackling this challenge,” said Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner of G-North ward covering Dharavi.
Thousands of volunteers joined hands with the doctors and BMC officials to test, trace and isolate. Around 600,000 people have been screened in Dharavi, which has a population of around 850,000 people, according to BMC.
While in April, BMC was quarantining 1-2 people per positive case, the number increased to 12-15 people per case in May and June.
In the absence of testing kits, the doctors decided to use oximeters to check oxygen levels among those being tested.
“Normally, oxygen level should be around 98-100%. If it is less than this, then there is high suspicion that the patient needs to be tested. So, we are catching hold of a lot of patients with low levels of oxygen,” Utture said.