By Santosh Choure, Health Promotion Manager, Mumbai
Mumbai is still seeing more than 3,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day. People are scared and many of them don’t prefer to get tested even though they have symptoms, as they’re afraid of being quarantined or hospitalized and separated from their family members.
MSF is working in the M-East ward in Mumbai, one of the densely populated administrative division having 70% of its population living in slums, which also stands lowest on the human development index. I manage a team of 10 health promoters and we’re expecting to add 10-12 members very soon. The team is tasked to raise awareness in the community in different ways; community health workers travel through the narrow lanes of the informal settlements on auto-rickshaws delivering COVID-19 prevention messages through loudspeakers and sharing information on COVID-19 services available at the ward level.
We conduct handwashing demonstration sessions and meetings in the community with slum-dwellers, patients waiting in public and private health care centres, private sector doctors and health workers. We also reinforce the messages about wearing masks, social distancing and other ways COVID-19 can be prevented.
It’s hard when five or six people live together in small houses that might only be 10ft x 10ft but we request that they wear masks and observe social distancing in the lanes and markets. Anyone with symptoms is linked to the nearest testing centre and requested to wear a mask at home and isolate if possible.
We’ve been doing health promotion work in the community continuously since June 2020. When there were fewer cases in December and January people were more likely to ignore the messaging but now many more people are wearing masks.
We’re also doing digital health promotion reaching thousands of people on Facebook with videos and messaging, especially the younger generation who is active on social media.
Another important part of our work is helping protect particularly vulnerable people like drug-resistant TB and HIV patients, those with diabetes or hypertension or the elderly. This intervention is called shielding and we aim to reach out to more than 5,000 families, providing them with hygiene kits including masks, soaps, and sanitisers and floor cleaner to help them protect themselves as well as staying in contact with them on a weekly basis through phone providing regular health promotion information, advice and counselling.
The team is working really hard. In the beginning, a few of them had concerns but we’ve done a lot of safety training and we also provide mental health support. We’re all part of this community and are really motivated to help as much as we can. But we need more people and more actors doing health promotion to promote COVID-19 appropriate behaviour and testing.