Cramped houses and lack of daylight and ventilation in settlements constructed by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) led to the spread of the deadly tuberculosis bacteria, according to the findings of a study.
The one-year-long study was carried out by Doctors For You (DFU), a non-profit organisation, in three colonies in M East Ward, which reported highest prevalence of TB among Mumbai’s 24 wards. A total of 4,080 households were surveyed, including 1,785 in Lallubhai Compound, 1,797 in Natwar Parekh Compound and 498 in PMG Colony, which are located in Mankhurd and Govandi areas.
A total of 318 TB patients were surveyed and a majority of them said that they had contracted the disease after moving into the colonies. The study revealed that congestion and poor architecture had a co-relation to the rise in tuberculosis cases in the colonies.
Dr. Ravikant Singh of DFU said, “This was the first time the role of housing in the spread of TB was looked into. The overall atmosphere in these colonies is depressive and gloomy owing to lack of light and ventilation. When one contracts TB, the medication and its side effects also cause depression.”
Dr. Singh said most families had to keep tube lights and fans switched on throughout the day as the houses grew dark and stuffy. A luxmeter was used to measure brightness and illumination in homes, and ventilation was assessed using an anenometer, which measures the speed of wind.
Dr. Peehu Pardeshi said 40% of the total households were sampled for the TB survey. She said, “It was not easy to convince people to talk to us. We had to offer them a dental check-up voucher worth ₹500 as an incentive.”
Researchers from the Center for Urban Science Engineering in IIT Bombay, who assisted in the survey, said the recommendations made by the study should serve as a reference point for future rehabilitation projects. Professor Ronita Bardhan said, “This tells us that housing designing plays a role in increasing or decreasing the probability of incidence of TB. Even in low-cost redevelopment, certain architectural changes and measures can go a long way in curbing diseases. Indonesia has a similar social housing project. It is a successful example with good ventilation and better quality of living.”
The study has brought in focus big redevelopment projects in the Bombay Development Directorate chawls in Naigaon, Sewri, N.M. Joshi Marg and Worli. The researchers said if these rehabilitation units were also designed like the ones in Mankhurd and Govandi, then they would also end up being breeding grounds for the TB bacteria. The people in the M East Ward were accommodated in seven-storeyed buildings. The residents of BDD chawls are proposed to be moved into flats in 22-storeyed buildings.
The study has increased apprehension regarding redevelopment projects in posh areas like Worli, which is home to the affluent and has premium housing. Dr. Singh said, “All we should ensure is that the poor should not be accommodated in structures that lack such basic facilities.”
In his research, Dr. Singh has cited examples such as a study conducted in Birmingham, which found out that the spread of TB increasing during the winter season as there was less exposure to sunlight. Another study conducted in Peru found an association between the incidence of TB and factors like crowding of the houses, hours of sunlight exposure and vitamin D deficiency.
The DFU study was funded by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Environmental Improvement Society, a body set up by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority.