How a Crowded Slum of One Million People Contained the Coronavirus to Only 2,000 Cases

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, examining the spread, the rate of infections, the international response, and how these things have varied nation-to-nation has been a source of nothing less than bewilderment.

The cramped bazaars and streets of the Medinas in Morocco are relatively fine compared to some cities in the richest nations on earth.

The amount that is known and unknown has led to all kinds of approaches and guesswork, but perhaps nothing could be considered more astonishing than the containment of the now-infamous virus in one of the most crowded slums in Asia—in Dhravai, Mumbai, where one million people live in a labyrinthine-neighborhood of tightly packed shacks and one-room houses where social distancing is impossible.

The largest city in India, Mumbai is the epicenter of COVID-19 in India, and it has so far registered 500,000 cases.

But, while the city at large has seen maxed-out hospital beds, Dharavi, the setting of the Oscar-Winning film Slumdog Millionaire, has reported just 2,000 cases and 79 deaths overall, with just 274 in June.

How did they do it?

A proactive response was initiated, with 2,450 health workers assigned to Dharavi who started going door to door every morning at nine AM to test people.

After the first person tested positive in the slum—a 56-year-old garment worker who died the same day—the local and civic task forces identified the 5 highest-risk areas of the slum and started hunting the disease down, using contact tracing to find people who were at risk of being infected.

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In total 47,500 people were tested in the opening salvo. “That gave us a head start,” Anil Pachanekar, a private doctor and head of a local physicians’ association, told the LA Times. “If [those cases] had slipped through, it would have wreaked havoc.”

Credited for insuring the low rates of infection, these Mumbai health workers endured severe heat and humidity, walking through crowded streets wearing protective plastic body suits that didn’t allow for bathroom breaks.

Along with the disease, the task force encountered the paranoia and misconceptions about it. “When we went around Dharavi, we also started educating people about it,” he said. “We told them it is not a crime to be tested positive for coronavirus.”

Fear is a killer

Alleviating the fear of COVID-19 in people, especially as it related to the fear of visiting a clinic or medical office for testing, ended up being a very effective way to treat the disease.

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By April 20th, nineteen days after exposure, the door to door testing stopped, and 350 private clinics there were allowed to reopen. By then, the education efforts had paid off, and lines of people looking to get tested were forming outside of testing centers.

Meanwhile, city officials began converting buildings like wedding halls, schools and community centers into quarantine shelters with food and healthcare provisions. People who tested positive were quarantined in their homes while volunteer “COVID warriors” ensured those who were quarantined could get the medical supplies or groceries they needed.

With less than 20 deaths recorded in the slum during June, it seems like the worst is over for the residents of Dharavi—but what is being called the “Dharavi method” stands as a model for the future.

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It demonstrates that no situation is too dire for human resolve and ingenuity, and that even people living in squalor have something to teach the world.

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What Can One Person Do in 10 Years? This Man Planted 152 Million Mangrove Trees

“Here we have a burgeoning (mangrove) leaf. You take it and you plant the lower third in the mud, and then you take 2 steps—one, two, and then you plant another one,” said the retired politician, with a smile ear to ear, as he wades in the murky coastal waters of Senegal’s Casamance Delta.

Planting since 2009, Haidar el Ali’s efforts have produced one of the most stunning successes in the history of modern large-scale reforestation—the restoration of an entire Senegalese mangrove swamp.

Forests are one of the most resilient habitats on our planet while also being one of the most exploited. Ever since the scientific community began to encourage the planting of trees to ‘re-wild’ previously lost forest ecosystems to respond to climate change, some very determined members of the human race have rolled up their sleeves and produced remarkable results.

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As Senegal’s former Minister of Ecology (and later Fisheries), the 67-year-old was able to rally citizens from the local coastal population to help him plant 152 million mangrove buds by hand, and it created a truly beautiful coastal mangrove forest stretching hundreds of square miles—one of the largest of its kind in the world.

A Paradise for Crabs—and Environmental Ministers

Recently, Jean Francois Bastin et al. estimated that 2.4 billion acres of additional forest cover on the earth (1B hectares) would suck 25% of all the carbon currently being pumped into the atmosphere. Science like this was in large part responsible for the World Economic Forum’s launch of the Trillion Trees vision.

Because they store immense amounts of carbon in their submerged root systems, mangroves and other bodies of coastal vegetation are some of our planet’s most important ecosystems. They help filter river mud runoff from entering the sea, while absorbing the brunt of tidal waves and tsunamis. And they also provide some of the most valuable habitat for near-shore wildlife including birds, insects, invertebrates, crustaceans, reptiles, fish, and even monkeys.

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In a video interview with BBC, Haidar described how the original mangrove forest in Southern Senegal was disrupted in the 80s and 90s as the nation began to build roads which diverted or ended the flow of rivers. “At the time there were no environmental impact studies, of course.”

2008 photo of Haidar by Serigne Diagne, CC license

Next came the lumbermen who clear-cut the coastal mangroves. It wasn’t, as Haidar explains, until the salt from the sea water entering the delta poisoned the nearby rice fields that people began to think about replacing what had been lost.

WATCH: Man Succeeds Where Government Fails—He Planted a Forest in the Middle of a Cold Desert

Though nearing his seventh decade of life, Haidar swims butterfly stroke through the water-borne forest of his and his colleagues’ making, pointing out the presence of returning wildlife as a boon to the local economy.

“The mangrove is a fantastic ecosystem that attracts rain—and it is well known scientifically that this mud captures methane, and that these leaves capture CO2,” he explains.

“I take a lot of satisfaction from this. I’m ready to do it every day, all evening, all my life.”

(WATCH the heartwarming BBC video below… [NOTE: BBC only has video, no full article)

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