The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has pulled all its machinery to fight the novel coronavirus outbreak in the city. From screening travellers to manning the newly designated quarantine facilities and contact tracing to sanitisation activities, civic officials have been on the front line of the battle. In a conversation with The Hindu, additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani says every citizen should take responsibility to fight COVID-19. Excerpts:
The positive cases and deaths in Mumbai are rapidly increasing. Is the city’s health system equipped to take more load?
An analysis of all the deaths shows that these patients were immunocompromised. Each one of them had an underlying ailment which made it difficult for them to come out of the infection. Many of the positive patients were taken to Kasturba Hospital where we have seven jumbo oxygen cylinders, eight ventilators (invasive and non-invasive), and a battery of senior doctors. We have doctors from Nair Hospital coming to Kasturba as well as honorary specialists who offer guidance in treatment. Now, Kasturba is not the only hospital admitting patients. A 35-bed isolation ward has already started at Seven Hills Hospital and efforts are on to increase its strength to 100 beds. Ten private hospitals have also started isolations facilities. Besides, civic-run HBT Trauma Care, Kurla Bhabha, and Rajawadi hospitals have started functioning as isolation facilities.
Has the lockdown and fear of stigmatisation become a hindrance to the home-testing initiative of the BMC?
Instead of a patient, who fears exposure to the novel coronavirus, walking into a laboratory or hospital, collecting samples at home will help contain the spread of infection. There have been accounts that people are worried to allow technicians wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) to their homes due to the fear of being stigmatised. We have intensified our awareness drive so that people become more open to these options. There are also provisions now of a special vehicle going near the person’s residence. The person has to come to the vehicle to give the samples. The private laboratories have collected more than 1,000 samples from homes. The civic helpline is receiving 2,000-2,500 calls daily, and we answer all queries of the citizens and bust their myths, if any.
Is there a shortage of PPE for the civic healthcare staff?
At present, we have 8,700 PPE kits available. We have already placed an order for 30,000 more kits so that we have enough for the coming month. Having said that, it is also necessary for us to use the PPE kits judiciously because we may need more in the long run.
How many civic teams are on the ground to carry out sanitisation and contact tracing?
For disinfection, we have five teams who cover the areas where positive cases are reported from. These teams are now concentrated on the slum pockets and in about eight days, all slums will be covered. Our next target for disinfection is thickly populated areas like Kalbadevi and Bhendi Bazaar. We are positive that these disinfection activities will give a good result. For contact tracing, we have 24 teams on the ground, each consisting of three people. They are carrying out the tedious investigative job of extracting maximum information about the patient’s movement and contacts. The exercise starts in the hospital when a patient tests positive. Healthcare staff collect as many details as possible from the patient and his or her attendant and then pass on all details to the field teams. The field teams then get into action to trace all the contacts, send them for testing or quarantine them depending on the exposure. At times, multiple teams have to carry out contact-tracing for a single patient. We are also involving the police to help us.
The recent death of a south Mumbai doctor has raised questions about awareness among the affluent class. What exactly went wrong?
The case is extremely disturbing as we are talking about a family of doctors here. After one person, who returned from the U.K., developed slight symptoms, the family should have taken enough precaution as there was a senior citizen in the house. Secondly, the deceased’s son, also a doctor, conducted many procedures which was extremely irresponsible on his part. He should have avoided that. We are trying hard to stop the chain of infection but if well-aware educated people become ignorant, we cannot fight it. I urge every citizen to be self-disciplined, use the freedom judiciously during the lockdown, and be aware. Citizens should ensure that they eat good food, sleep well, and see a doctor if they have any symptoms. And in all circumstances, maintain a distance from each other as much as possible.