Mumbai: A few weeks ago global Scientists, epidemiologists and the international media were at pains to explain India’s mysteriously sharp decline in Covid 19 cases and deaths after September. Even though there has been a surge since mid-Feb, with an overall death rate of 112 per million people, we can confidently claim that we have fared far better than Europe and North America during this Pandemic.
One can attribute this to the heat, the robust immunity, the relatively younger population etc but let’s not forget very crucial elements which are, a dedicated workforce on the ground at State and Municipality levels and excellent doctors and health care workers, many of who are women. This should come as no surprise. One reads about women being the unsung heroes during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that claimed 50 million lives. They shouldered the burden of the pandemic because the virus disproportionately affected young men. Although the doctors treating the outbreak back then were almost universally male, it was women as nurses who became the primary caregivers.
On international women’s day we caught up with dynamic women Covid warriors from Mumbai South’s A-ward which covers Colaba, Churchgate and Navy Nagar, who were instrumental in containing the spread in that area.
This is just a small microcosm, but these women are representative of the indomitable spirit of our covid sheroes all over the country, who sacrificed much to ensure a better outcome for India.
Assistant Commissioner, BMC, A-Ward (Churchgate Colaba, Navy Nagar)
Her degree in social work and prior experience working in the State government held her in good stead for the mammoth task of managing the pandemic. Her duties ranged from creating awareness in the slums to providing for migrants, and arranging Covid tests for returning Indians. She balanced this with her housework and caring for her elderly mother, and inevitably contracted Covid Pneumonia in November. But that hasn’t stopped her from being back at work in full swing now that she’s recovered.
What were you responsibilities when we went into lockdown and how did you organize yourself?
I had to set up Awareness camp in slums, spread Information on whatsapp and control the emotions of people. We have 9 housing society groups in A-ward. I coordinated with them, organized medical camps in communities. I had to identify people who were sick and get their RT-PCR test done and see if they have comorbidities. We started Covid Care Center 1 (CCC1) for the high-risk contacts of positive patients, and Covid Care Center 2 (CC2) for covid positive patients who were mainly asymptomatic. In the beginning people were very reluctant to go there. We had to convince them. Had to give them confidence. We provided medicine and food in these centers. We had very limited manpower and resources, less than 100 people. My role was to monitor and coordinate everybody, doctors, politicians, and citizens. A Ward has many VIPs – IAS officers, judges, industrialists –I had to arrange tests for all of them. I had to arrange health checkups for the cruise ship passengers at Bombay port and for the passengers coming by the Vande Bharat planes. Really I think a woman is better equipped for this job. There is so much multi-tasking.
How did you organize your team?
My staff became like family. My subordinates and team leaders and officers would meet and take decisions together. I appointed team leaders. I made so many Whatsapp groups. We had a food team, accommodation team, medical team, etc.
Everyone had their responsibilities and nobody interfered. We tackled it very smoothly over 4 months.
Was it hard to balance your personal life and work during those days?
I had no domestic help then. So I had to go home and cook food. My mom is 78 and husband is in the railways. So I had to help with housework at the end of the day.
Were you responsible for migrant labour in your ward?
The state government made arrangements to send them back. Providing food, water, sanitizer and masks for migrants was my responsibility. We sent 2 lakh migrant labourers back. We would get one hour notice that a train was coming and that we would have to arrange food, water and masks for 1,000 people. It was a major task for us.
What were the main difficulties you experienced over the last year?
The slums areas – Machi Mar nagar, Azad nagari, Ambedkar nagri and others were the most challenging to deal with. They were not listening to us. They were having small gatherings and functions and cases rose. We took the help of the police in that matter. They set up chowkis in those communities. I personally went to Ambedkar nagar wearing a PPP kit and explained to the people. We started making announcements over loudspeakers in the slums.
Another challenging time was the monsoons. When there was a cyclone in June, I was in the slums. I shifted 2,000 people from Geeta Nagar slum. People told me not to go because I would get covid, but I said I have to save their lives.
Have you faced any difficulties being a woman in this position? What motivates you everyday?
I have never felt any difficulties being a woman. My approach is clear. I don’t differentiate between ladies and gents. My officers also know that I am ready to work at night, go anywhere –I am not hesitant because I am a woman.
I say everyday, if 10 people come to me, I may not be able to do all their work. But at least I can help 2 people daily and see a smile on their face.