ISLAMABAD: After facing resistance in the slums, the Directorate of Health Services (DHS) of Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI) has decided to involve churches, minority counsellors and public representatives to convince the residents to get themselves tested for Covid-19.

“We were expecting to conduct over 300 tests till date but we have not been able to even carry out 100 tests because of the severe resistance from the residents of slums. They fear that in case of positive results they would be arrested. Moreover, there is a misconception that the government gets $75,000 after declaring each person positive for Covid-19,” DHS Director General Dr Hasan Urooj told Dawn.

A campaign for coronavirus tracing in the high risk slums was launched on June 29 from 48 Quarters in G-7/3. The concept was that testing was being done only in sectors and slums could not be included in the trace, test and quarantine (TTQ) system. As there are 34 slums in the capital, of which 18 are legal, it was decided to hold a campaign in 10 slums and conduct around 1000 tests.

Dr Urooj said the slums in which testing was done were located in G-6, G-7, G-8 and G-9.

“The concept was that people of posh sectors can afford to get themselves tested but residents of slums cannot pay Rs6,000 to 8,000 for a test. So every slum has been divided into four parts and chairmen of the union councils were involved in the process. We have been trying to test every suspect but majority of people don’t cooperate with us.”

He said whenever it was asked if someone was sick or someone had symptoms of Covid-19 in the area, the residents told the health teams that everyone was fine and there was no sick person in the area.

“I assume that there are many reasons for it. There are misconceptions that police arrest those who get infected. Moreover, as majority of daily wagers reside in slums they fear that in case of positive patients there would be a lockdown in their area. Besides, some people believe that the government gets foreign funds in exchange for declaring people positive for Covid-19. There is a need to create awareness and convince the citizens that they should get themselves tested,” he said.

Replying to a question, Dr Urooj said though less than 100 samples were collected from the slums and sent to National Institute of Health (NIH) the results could not be received as the lab was overburdened.

“However, on an average we are getting 10 to 15 percent of the samples positive in Islamabad,” he said.

Dr Urooj said he had around 100 people in his team and a majority of them had been borrowed from environment, disaster management and sanitation departments. He said 38 posts were vacant and a file was moved for appointment of 250 employees but the proposal was still pending.

When contacted, Mayor Islamabad Sheikh Anser Aziz said it was really an issue that people did not want to get themselves tested even for free.

“As a large number of Christian community members live in the slums we have decided to involve churches and minority counsellors to convince them for testing,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2020