January 17, 2021

Coronavirus: The race to stop the virus spread in Asia’s ‘biggest slum’

On 23 March, a 56-year-old man living in a vast, labyrinthine slum in the western Indian city of Mumbai went to see a doctor. He was feeling feverish and had a bad cough.

The garment trader lived in Dharavi where more than half-a-million people are spread over 2.5 grubby sq km, which is less than a square mile. (Imagine a population larger than Manchester living in an area smaller than Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.) The slum was the inspiration for the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire film and city planners from all over the world have studied its throbbing economy and society.

The local doctor examined the man and he left with a prescription for cough syrup and paracetamol. Three days later, the man turned up at the private Sion Hospital close to home. His fever had climbed and the cough was getting worse. He said he had no travel history, so doctors gave him more cough syrup and sent him home once again.

On 29 March, the man returned to the hospital with signs of respiratory distress. Doctors admitted him, and promptly sent swabs for the Covid-19 test.

Three days later, the results arrived – he had tested positive. His condition deteriorated sharply and doctors tried to move him to a bigger hospital already treating Covid – patients.

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