Fact check: Indian government said containment strategies, not use of hydroxychloroquine, helped Mumbai slum slow rate of new coronavirus cases

Facebook users have been sharing a post saying anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine prevented a “catastrophic COVID disaster in an Indian slum”. This claim is partly false — the drug was given as a preventive measure to some residents of a densely-populated neighbourhood in Mumbai, but the Indian government, the World Health Organization and officials that Reuters spoke to attributed the success in curbing the spread of the virus in the area to a host of other factors. Studies have also shown that the drug is ineffective against the virus.

A healthcare worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) speaks to a resident about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a check up camp in Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums, Mumbai, India, June 7, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

The posts can be seen here (here) and (here) . They say: “It’s worth noting that #Hydroxychloroquine prevented a catastrophic Covid disaster in an Indian slum.”

Other Facebook users (here) , (here) and (here) have quoted an article from American Thinker online magazine (here) .

The article says that the use of hydroxychloroquine was the “policy most responsible” for preventing a “COVID-19 disaster zone” in the Mumbai slum of Dharavi. Its author Vijay Jayaraj told Reuters the conclusion was based on the recommendations of India’s medical body the Indian Council of Medical Research, which prescribed the use of the drug as a preventive measure.

The growth rate of the virus in Dharavi went down from 12% in April 2020 to 1.02% in June, the Indian government said (here) .

Hydroxychloroquine was recommended as a preventive measure for health workers and asymptomatic contacts of confirmed cases by the national government in late March. (here). Later, the government expanded the scope of the drug to include surveillance workers in containment zones and police and paramilitary personnel deployed for activities related to COVID-19. It said its review had shown healthcare workers who took hydroxychloroquine were less likely to contract COVID-19 (here) .

But several people involved in the city’s COVID-19 response put the success of the campaign down to large-scale efforts in screening the residents, isolating them and imposing a lockdown on the area to prevent them from leaving the neighbourhood.

“Hydroxychloroquine was given elsewhere in Mumbai as well, but they did not show the same early success as Dharavi did,” said Kiran Dighavkar, assistant commissioner in Mumbai’s municipality.

“They started showing results later after following the Dharavi model,” Dighavkar told Reuters by phone.

The ‘Dharavi model’ — in which tens of thousands of people were screened on their doorstep and in clinics, and isolated if they displayed symptoms — has received international praise.

Daksha Khan, deputy health officer at Mumbai municipal body the BMC, told Reuters that “community participation” played a huge role in curtailing the virus’s spread, and that the drug was given only at a clinical level, and not to the entire community.

According to Health advocacy group Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan’s Amulya Nidhi, Dharavi’s success in containing the virus was due to “collective community participation” and the role of the municipal health workers and local authorities, which carried out early screening and have better healthcare facilities compared to other parts in the country.

The Indian government has also attributed Dharavi’s success to other factors including surveillance and strict containment measures. It said the Mumbai authorities “actively chased the virus and aggressively conducted targeted tracing of COVID suspects” to reduce the growth rate of the virus (here) .

The World Health Organization too praised Dharavi’s success, and listed “community engagement” and the “basics of testing, tracing, isolating and treating” as the factors. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s comments on Dharavi’s early success can be seen here at timecode 1:00 (here) .

This article published by the U.S. National Center of Biotechnology Information (here) cites a number of sources to conclude that Dharavi has shown that virus transmission can be slowed down by “chasing it down, with micro-mapping, robust surveillance, public-private partnership, community engagement, and proactive leadership”.

Media reports (here, here and here on Dharavi’s success also made no mention of the anti-malaria drug.

Meanwhile, the effectiveness of HCQ in preventing infection has been questioned. The Association of Medical Consultants Mumbai showed that 76 percent of 176 infected doctors surveyed contracted the virus despite being given the drug (here , here) .

Several studies in various countries have found hydroxychloroquine is ineffective in treating or preventing COVID-19, as Reuters has reported here , here and here .


Partly false. While HCQ was administered to health workers and contacts of confirmed cases in Dharavi, there is no evidence that it played a role in preventing the infection. Officials involved in the campaign said the spread of the virus was contained due to large-scale early screening, testing and isolating.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .