Mumbai declared as one of the hotspots of COVID-19 with more than 4000 positive cases so far. In this city of dreams, some areas have more positive cases than others. The areas with more number of COVID-19 positive cases are densely populated or slum areas. This indicates that Mumbai’s slums are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than other highrise areas. 

As soon as the deadly coronavirus reached Mumbai’s slums, authorities and doctors seemed to be worried. The first case was reported in Asia’s biggest slum, Dharavi, and then the cases began reporting from Govandi’s Shivaji Nagar, Baiganwadi, Bhiwandi and other slum areas. 

Dharavi has crossed 250 COVID-19 positive cases, and Govandi and Mankhurd reported 149 cases. Mumbai’s G-south ward comprises Worli, Prabhadevi and Lower Parel has reported 487 cases so far. The officials admitted that slum pockets of the ward are responsible for the increase in the number of cases. 

Authorities have been taking measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading further. However, it seems the efforts are not as impactful as they supposed to be. Here are some reasons that are making all the efforts less impactful than it is. 

 

Social distancing is a myth

Mumbai’s slums have houses as small as 10 ft x 10 ft. Wherein, more than six people reside. Some houses are made of metal roofing sheets. This results in scorching heat in the houses. That is the reason residents of slum areas are stepping out of houses and roaming around whenever possible. “It is tough for us to stay in a small house all the time. It’s suffocating for us,” Pravin Nikadje said. Pravin runs a small business in Dharavi.

Moreover, residents of Mumbai’s slum are running here and there to arrange food for their families. The residents are autorickshaw drivers, labourers and beggars. They earn even less than hand to mouth. Because of this lockdown, they are left with no money. The only source of food is NGOs distributing food grains and cooked food. They are also lining up at ration shops with ration cards to avail subsidized food grains. 

The ordeals force slum residents to break the rule of social distancing and unable to self-quarantine to avoid getting infected by COVID-19. Kiran Dighavkar, Assistant Commissioners of G Ward of Mumbai also said that social distancing is impractical in Mumbai’s slums. 

 

Mumbai’s slums are home for diseases

According to an International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) survey in Mumbai’s slums, about 89.6 per cent of people living in slums die of respiratory diseases followed by digestive problems (41.6 per cent) and aches and pains (37.8 per cent). 

Mumbai slums are homes for diseases because the residents don’t have access to clean water; clean air as garbage is dumped in the area and drainage; no separate kitchen to avoid smoke, they use community toilets which are more often filthy. Many defecate in the open too. Yes, Mumbai is not a Free Open Defecation (FOD) city yet in reality. Read the report here

Doctors believe that slums are like a ticking time bomb. “Mumbai’s slum is like a time bomb. The coronavirus will spread faster because it is already a home for many diseases hence they are more vulnerable to the deadly virus,” said Dr. Ravinak Singh, founder of Doctors For You. The association works in slums of Mumbai and other cities for betterment of the health of slum dwellers.

 

A community toilet in Rafi Nagar Slum of Govandi. (PC: Bilal Khan)

 

 

Residents are scared of COVID-19 testing

Since coronavirus took over Mumbai’s slums, residents who visit local doctors for cough, cold and fever are asked to visit hospitals that are equipped with COVID-19 testing facilities. Local doctors don’t want to take risks in this time of uncertainty. They are suggesting nearby hospitals so that COVID-19 affected people can be found at an early stage and get treated. 

However, residents are scared of getting tested for COVID-19. They believe they will be diagnosed with the Coronavirus falsely. “They are also scared because the condition of the quarantine area in hospitals is pathetic. If they are once trapped in quarantine they will be affected with COVID-19 for sure,” said Akbar Ali, a resident from Baiganwadi. He more often volunteers for social work.  

 

Residents fail to avoid smoking

World health organization (WHO) has revealed that smoking can lead to coronavirus as it makes the human body vulnerable to the deadly virus. “Smoking damages your lungs and other parts of your body, and it makes you more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. It is the right time to 🚭 quit smoking for a safer and better health 💪,” reads WHO Facebook post.

Even gutkha is banned because spitting after chewing gutkha can spread the Coronavirus faster. However, it is observed that the consumption of cigarettes and gutkha have increased in Mumbai’s slums during the lockdown. The addicts are buying them even at a premium rate. Read the report on the same here.

 

Residents can’t afford to maintain cleanliness

Apart from social distancing, people are asked to wash hands more often during the day and use hand sanitization and maintain cleanliness. However, all these precautions are not practical to slum dwellers. To wash hands with soap more often will increase the consumption of soap and water. 

For slum residents, water is not available all the time. The water is available only in the morning. In many slum areas, not even every day. The availability of water is so scarce that slum dwellers avoid taking showers every day. Do you think they can afford to wash hands more often with soap? 

They need money to buy sanitizers and soap to make sure hands are clean. They are now struggling to put food on the tables due to lack or no money after the lockdown, how can they afford more consumption of soaps and sanitizers. Don’t forget that one house has more than six people, some houses have 12 people. The consumption of soaps will increase much more if all of them start washing hands with soap even thrice a day. 

As far as maintaining cleanliness, it is also hard to practice, because they are using community toilets which are more often filthy. Garbage is also piling up everywhere. Children are playing outside without following the COVID-19 protocols. 

 

Lack of awareness

The deadly Coronavirus has taken more than 650 lives so far in India and 1,90,549 across the world. More than 21,000 people are infected by COVID-19. India has come to a halt because of the virus. But, the residents of the slum are reacting as if it is a small disease that will disappear soon. This is also one of the huge reasons that residents of slums are visiting local markets as they used to be before the lockdown. 

“The local market is packed so much that you can’t even walk properly. I have to buy some groceries, but waiting for the rush to be reduced. They are not adhering the rules made to prevent the infection of the Coronavirus,” said Arif Idrisi, a social worker in Mumbai’s slum area, Rafi Nagar. 

“It is tough for slum residents to follow COVID-19 protocols rigorously but they should follow the protocols as much as possible to avoid getting infected by the coronavirus,” said doctor Zahid Khan, Govandi, he is a member of United Medical Association (UMA), an association of doctors in Mumbai.

Also Read: Coronavirus: How Authorities And Doctors Are Saving Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi From COVID-19