The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has focused a good deal of attention on Dharavi but in another not-so-glamorous slum area of the city, the M East ward, the COVID-19 death count has been increasing steadily.
M East, which has the lowest human development index and densest slums in Mumbai, has recorded the highest COVID-19 fatality rate. The ward includes Govandi, Deonar, Mankhurd, Shivaji Nagar, Cheetah Camp and a part of Chembur, and nearly 80% of the population lives in slums. The State Reserve Police Force has been called in Shivaji Nagar to rein in the spread of the pandemic.
With 737 COVID-19 positive cases and 72 deaths recorded till Wednesday, the case fatality rate in M East ward stands at nearly 10%, which is more than double Mumbai’s mortality rate.
The reason for the high mortality can be attributed to the lack of health facilities in the ward as well as compromised immunity of the population, say experts. The respiratory health of the population in M East has been a concern for long: the ward has the highest number of drug-resistant tuberculosis patients. It is also home to the dumping ground, putting residents at the risk of lung ailments.
“With all the existing issues, the population in M East is more vulnerable to the novel coronavirus,” said Arun Kumar, CEO of Apnalaya, an NGO working in Shivaji Nagar. Government records peg the population of M East below nine lakh, but their assessment shows it is nearly 12 lakh, he said.
Similar to Dharavi, huge density and dependence on common toilets has caused the rapid spread of the infection. For example, Apnalaya’s study in Shivaji Nagar has shown that there is merely one toilet seat for 145 people.
The low rate of testing is another major problem. “We have been urging the authorities to make the testing data public. Also, the testing has to be proportionate to the number of cases that are being detected,” said Mr. Kumar.
With a large population living in slums, wards like M East should have been prioritised, he said. “Such wards require more granular planning and focussed strategies, which has not been done.”
The BMC, however, said it has an equal focus on M East ward.
“When the Central team visited the city, M East was one of the three wards that were selected for their round,” said additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani. The other wards they visited were G North (Dharavi, Mahim, Dadar) and F North (Wadala, Antop Hill), he said.
Inadequate health infrastructure is also a worry. Shatabdi Hospital in Govandi and Rajawadi Hospital in Ghatkopar are the most accessible municipal hospitals for people living in M East ward. While Shatabdi is in the process of developing a 45-bed isolation ward, Rajawadi has an isolation facility, but it also caters to many other areas in the eastern suburbs.
“Patients from M East who have major symptoms have to go to Rajawadi, Sion or Bhabha Hospital in Kurla,” said Dr. Zahid Khan, secretary of the United Medical Association in the area.
M East has a capacity of 1,056 beds for quarantining high risk and low-risk contacts of patients. Only 424 such contacts are currently under quarantine.
Implementing the lockdown and physical distancing is a challenge in the area, where 8 to 10 people share tiny rooms.
“Keeping people indoors is very difficult. The State Reserve Police Force has now been called in Shivaji Nagar,” said Sudhanshu Dwivedi, assistant commissioner, M East.
He said the mortality has been high as most patients had comorbid conditions. While most of the deaths have been in the higher age group, the ward has also recorded the death of a 17-year-old boy from Baiganwadi, perhaps the city’s youngest COVID-19 fatality.