Strategy has helped Mumbai’s Dharavi flatten the curve

AGGRESSIVE screening for Covid-19 symptoms in those living in overcrowded areas is a strategy that has already proved successful in containing the spread of coronavirus. Mumbai’s civic body has been lauded for following this and other measures to dramatically reduce the number of daily cases in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum. And this is exactly what our NGO partner Doctors For You is doing in the Maximum city – using Mobile Medical Units.

Health camps in slums

Working alongside municipal authorities, DFY has set up Mobile Medical Units staffed with doctors, nurses and health assistants to medically screen residents in densely populated areas like Mankhurd, Sanjay Nagar and Govandi.

Each Mobile Medical Unit can check up to 300 people a day and those found to be potentially ill with the disease are immediately forwarded for testing. This helps in not only identifying potential cases but also isolating them early and therefore limiting the contagion.

Surge in cases

As the country opens up after two months, there has been a surge in coronavirus cases. The number is now well past 65,000 in the financial capital – more than China’s Wuhan at its peak – and is overwhelming its hospitals and health infrastructure. New Delhi is close behind with an alarming rise in Covid-19 infections. This is where defensive strategies such as medical screening that Doctors For You is doing plays a critical role.

But to widen its impact and be as effective as possible, Doctors For You need at least five Mobile Medical Units making daily visits to congested parts of Mumbai. Each Unit costs ₹5.6lakh per month to run. For instance, just the daily expense of protection equipment for 11 staff per unit is ₹850; for medicines, ambulance, fuel and driver it is ₹5,500, staff salaries amount to ₹11,000 a day

Inexpensive way to isolate spreaders

Five Mobile Medical Units, each screening up to 300 people a day would cover 36,000 residents of potential hotspots in overcrowded colonies in the 24 days of the month the teams will set up health camps. 

In the last one week, for instance, DFY have sent a Mobile Medical Unit to six densely populated areas of Mumbai’s M East Ward where they have screened 1,593 residents of which 57 showed clinical signs of being Covid-19 positive and were sent off for further tests. All 57 could be ill and potentially become super spreaders of the virus. 

This is an inexpensive way to identify potential Covid patients and limit them from spreading the virus, under ₹70 per person. With test kits for the disease in short supply and each test costing at least 10 times more, medics and hospital authorities want to limit it to those who need it rather than make it available for all.

Challenges and risks

This is not an easy operation for Doctors For You. In this hot climate, healthcare professionals working with PPE kits are finding it difficult to sustain for more than three to four hours. They have reported that even after so much awareness people are not using full protection while going outside – and putting others, including the medics at risk. Some patients are also not agreeing to share their contact numbers so DFY can follow up.

With the onset of monsoon, many other diseases are expected to appear, increasing the load on already overrun health infrastructure. Doctors For You plan to work closely with municipal authority, increase their team members and to officially share the weight of the government system. 

At the end of the day, the pandemic is a health issue. Despite all the other difficulties and distress it has caused in the country, the root problem is the virus itself. And with Mumbai having the maximum number of fatalities and cases – the city of dreams needs our help.

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