In a season of disturbingly telling social media posts by weary resident doctors in municipal hospitals amid the COVID-19 curve’s continued sharp rise, Mumbai welcomed the south-west monsoon over the weekend. With the first downpour has come a rising tide of worries regarding how the virus will behave in the wet months and how the city’s annual deluge of malaria, gastroenteritis, leptospirosis and dengue will impact health infrastructure that is barely holding up right now. Densely populated areas and slum colonies, where the maximum numbers of COVID-19 cases have been recorded, also tend to report high incidence of water-borne and vector-borne diseases every monsoon. Municipal health staff will soon be additionally tasked with screening and surveying families in areas that witness floods, for distribution of doxycycline and azithromycin to prevent outbreaks of leptospirosis. More than 20 lakh families were screened in July last year, but such an extensive exercise this year will be difficult. Every June, lakhs visit municipal clinics and require diagnostic tests with viral and malarial fever symptoms. Testing facilities, fever clinics, municipal health outposts and hospitals, all stretched impossibly thin already, are preparing for a more demanding challenge ahead.
COVID-19 has exposed Maximum City’s harsh, unacceptable levels of inequality of access to even basic amenities. It has also driven home middle class urban India’s complicity in hiding these inequities out of sight. Poor health indicators are closely linked to patchy access to water and sanitation, and as has been underlined now, Mumbai’s housing and sanitation crises do not endanger slumdwellers alone. The acknowledgement of interconnectedness is hopefully here to stay. For, it’s plainly visible now that the health of the migrant worker in the shanty town, her access to a decent living standard, her ability to nurture her family safely, are integral to the health of homes and businesses elsewhere in the metropolis. The poor cannot be the only stakeholders in the battle for equal access to a reasonable life. Additionally, these last three months have demonstrated that tele-workability norms are implementable, and rainy days can be work-from-home days.
Uddhav Thackeray, the state’s first Mumbaikar chief minister, must recognise that a comprehensive approach is needed for an inclusive recovery. Public transport, health infrastructure, access to amenities, affordable housing — it cannot be business as usual on any of these. Thackeray, who has not baulked from admitting his government’s shortcomings, promised when he took charge that his focus would be on Mumbai. The Shiv Sena’s campaign tagline was apt, “hich ti vel”. Indeed, the time is now.
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