Mission control in Mumbai’s Dharavi slums to stop virus spread

Mission control in Mumbai’s Dharavi slums to stop virus spread
Mission control in Mumbai’s Dharavi slums to stop virus spread

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - MUMBAI: Authorities in Mumbai were working round the clock on Sunday to limit the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dharavi in Mumbai, one of Asia’s biggest slums, after one person died and five tested positive.
Sandwiched within India’s financial capital and home to a million people residing on 520 acres of land, health workers described the development in Dharavi as a ticking time bomb.
However, the Maharashtra government and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the city’s civic body, is on a warpath to contain the virus through tough measures.
 “We have five positive cases, 53 high risk and 198 low risk cases and are sealing buildings where such cases have come to our attention,” Dr. Virendra Mohite, medical health officer of the BMC for the Dharavi area, told Arab News.
Police have been deployed to ensure that no one enters or exits buildings either, he added.
One such building, where a 56-year-old man died on April 1, has been sealed.
Dr. Mohite said that suspected cases, which number over 20, have been moved to the Rajiv Gandhi Sports Complex which has been converted into a quarantine center.
To facilitate the anti-virus measures, health workers are conducting a daily survey to check for symptoms in residents.
Considering the prevailing unhygienic conditions and overcrowding in Dharavi, controlling the virus could prove to be a daunting task for authorities. Residents, however, are putting up a brave front.
“The difficulties are immense but all of us are very cooperative with the BMC. People are allowed to only shop between 7-10 a.m. when we go out to buy groceries, milk and medicine. A 10-minute market visit now takes one-and-a-half hours as there is a long queue, with each one keeping a distance of three feet and finally one person being allowed into the shop,” Fathima Muthu, a local school teacher, said.
After 10 a.m., it’s a complete lockdown in the area. Muthu who resides with her 16-year-old daughter in a 6ft by 8ft room, said that BMC workers are on the watch all the time to ensure no one flouts the curfew.
“The only saving grace is we can use the public toilet at any time. I don’t have a toilet in my house. Fortunately, the paid toilet remains clean,” she said.
Others with even smaller homes and bigger families have built structures over their present ones, she added.
Thousands of shanties line narrow lanes where open drains can be a health hazard. The slums have umpteen problems, including poor sanitation, open drains, unhygienic conditions, and inadequate health facilities.
But Muthu says she and her neighbors wash their lanes everyday, even under normal circumstances, to keep the mosquitos away.
Vinod Shetty, director of the Acorn Foundation, who works in Dharavi on several social-impact programs said that the COVID-19 outbreak was scaring people, adding that the economic effects were going to be equally stressful.
“Daily wage earners are very distressed and it is grim even for those who run small businesses and industries here as everything is shut down,” Shetty said.
Dharavi was once on the outskirts of Mumbai city center during the period of British imperial rule. With time, the migration of poor rural Indians into urban India came to Dharavi, which now has a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and diverse population. Its literacy rate is also high at 70 percent.
An informal economy began to take root here and a study by the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology found some 5,000 industrial units producing garments, pottery, leather goods and steel fabrication as well as a thriving recycling industry.

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