AMID REPORTS that health workers and the administration in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum sprawl, may have gained the upper hand in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic despite the odds being stacked against them, a team of frontline workers is taking some quiet satisfaction.
The slum is dotted with clinics of private medical practitioners, and while some have remained closed through the lockdown, others have worked diligently through the past three months, relying on innovations and grit even as some private doctors tested positive.
Dr Abhay Taware (44), who has been running his clinic in Dharavi for 20 years, tested positive for Covid-19 on April 23. On May 14, recovered and raring to go, he re-opened his clinic. Admitted to Dharavi’s Jai Hospital and having tested negative on May 6, Dr Taware said since the imposition of the lockdown, he has screened over 1,000 of patients. “The support I received from my family and the residents of the locality, helped me come back and resume my service here,” Dr Taware told The Sunday Express.
Nearly 15 lakh people, including its floating population, live in Dharavi, though as per media reports about 50 per cent have left the slum since mid-April.
As of Saturday, Dharavi has recorded 2,218 positive cases, of which 1,019 are active. A total of 1,118 people have been discharged so far. No Covid-19 deaths have been reported from Dharavi over the past week, and the slum sprawl has slowly transformed from a virus hotspot to a model worth studying closely.
Early in the lockdown, Dr Anil Pachnekar (60), an independent general practitioner who has worked in Dharavi for 35 years, led a team of health workers to conduct door-to-door surveys to identify residents with symptoms. “In the second phase, the government allowed clinics in Dharavi to re-open for consulting patients with fever and other symptoms of Covid-19. This played an important role, as residents in Dharavi are more usually more comfortable visiting doctors known to them personally. More residents came out openly which in turn helped to isolate suspected patients much earlier,” said Dr Pachnekar, also the national vice-president of the Indian Medical Association.
In the slum known for its spirit of innovation, Dr Manjusha S Chaugule (57), meanwhile, improvised a six-foot stethoscope to examine patients while maintaining proper social distancing at her small clinic. Having run the clinic in Dharavi for 32 years, she said the building where the clinic is located is itself 100 years old. “…my relationship with the people in Dharavi is more like a family. Hence, it is my duty to serve the families here during these testing times,” said Dr Chaugule.
Dr Avani Walke (47), who has been running a clinic in Dharavi for the past 15 years, continued to check 70-80 patients daily on average through the lockdown.
These doctors’ efforts helped in contact tracing and quarantining as patients were more willing to confide in them, a fact conceded even by the municipal authorities.
Dr Shivkumar Utture (62), who has practised in Mahim-Dharavi for 31 years, kept his clinic open through the lockdown. Utture, also president of the Maharashtra Medical Council, said it was through the vast network of local clinics inside Dharavi that doctors were able to identify and quarantine over 4,000 suspected patients. “The movement of migrant workers also acted as a blessing in disguise as the usage of public toilets came down,” he added.
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