Coronavirus in Mumbai: Urgent need for sero-surveillance in A ward slums, says corporator

Mumbai: Concerned that not enough Covid-19 tests have been carried out in the slums of A ward in South Mumbai and that there could be undetected cases which could spread the infection in the ward comprising Colaba, Nariman Point and Churchgate, local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) corporator Harshita Narwekar has urged the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to initiate antibody sero-surveillance tests in the slum areas at the earliest.

The ward encompasses some of the key commercial areas of the city as well as the most affluent localities, like Cuffe Parade and Marine Drive. It currently has 504 active cases, with a total of 2,556 cases having been reported so far. The doubling rate of cases is 54 days and the growth rate stands at 1.3 per cent.

"Adequate Covid testing was not done in the slums of south Mumbai and only patients displaying major symptoms were taken to hospital. People with milder symptoms stayed home, and there are chances that many asymptomatic patients have not been detected yet," Narwekar told The Free Press Journal.

"I requested the BMC to conduct antibody sero-surveillance tests, because it will help us to detect whether anyone is infected or has developed immunity after being exposed to an infected person in the recent past. The test has an accuracy rate of 99 per cent and the report comes within 4-5 hours,” she added.

Being the downtown of the nation's financial capital, A ward houses the Mumbai and Maharashtra Police headquarters, Mantralaya, the Bombay High Court and Vidhan Bhavan. Most slumdwellers are employed in these institutions.

Over the past month, an increasing number of cases have been reported from the high-rises in south Mumbai, and till date, 62 buildings in A ward have been sealed. Residents claim the spread began when many buildings opened up and domestic help and drivers who lived in the slum areas re-entered building premises.

"A ward has a floating population of 48 lakh. Most of the people living in the slums are employed in the high-rises and in the key headquarters of the city. The unlocking is happening in a haphazard way and this is putting lakhs of citizens at the risk of getting infected," said Narwekar.

"Sero-surveillance will help us get an idea of the exposure among the people. More than 50 per cent of the ward's population are senior citizens, and if cases go undetected, there will be an explosion of cases in the buildings" said the corporator.

In the initial days of the lockdown, BMC had conducted fever camps in various pockets of these slums. People were initially apprehensive about attending the camps. However, as the rate of recovery increased, more were ready to get tested.

Despite several attempts, Additional Municipal Commissioner (Health) Suresh Kakani was unavailable for comment.

An official from the civic health department said the BMC had carried out sero- surveillance in three wards of the city - M west (Chembur), F north (Wadala, Sion) and R north (Dahisar). Samples from 10,000 people have been collected so far.

"The first phase has been completed. Sero-surveillance is done to check if people have developed antibodies. The second phase of the tests will be initiated soon and this time, more wards will be included. There are many suggestions coming in. Senior officials will assess them and take a call," the civic official said.

"Decisions on conducting sero-surveillance tests are being taken by the executive health officers at the BMC headquarters and not at the ward-level," said Chanda Jadhav, Assistant Municipal Commissioner and ward officer of A ward.

Despite several attempts, Additional Municipal Commissioner (Health) Suresh Kakani was unavailable for comment.

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