Community Volunteers Help Prevent Polio and Promote Immunisation
Routine immunization coverage is critical for children to have adequate immunity against polio and other childhood diseases.
After the curfew was lifted, Zulfikar was taken to the doctor who diagnosed him with polio. Despite medication, therapy and an eventual operation, Zulfikar was physically challenged for rest of his life.
Routine immunization coverage is critical for children to have adequate immunity against polio and other childhood diseases.
Munni Begum’s baby boy became seriously ill during the communal riots in Moradabad. “He had a sudden, very high fever. I realized that his legs could not stand. They were very soft,” says Begum as she recalls that time 30 years ago.
Moradabad is in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) has still has some of the worst immunisation rates in India at 14.39 per cent and often inadequate health services.
Children are exposed to poor hygiene and sanitation facilities in the slum areas. Dry latrines, where human excreta is removed manually in baskets, are still used by 60 to 70 per cent of the city. Poor hygiene increases the risk of transmission of polio.
In 2009, 1,606 children were affected by polio globally, of which 719 were children from either UP or Bihar. The virus in India is now thankfully limited to only 107 blocks in UP and Bihar. India accounts for 34 per cent of global cases.
Routine immunization coverage is critical for children to have adequate immunity against polio and other childhood diseases. According to DLHS data in 2007-2008, only 30.3 per cent of children under-five years of age were fully immunized in UP.
UNICEF, with funds from the IKEA Social Initiative, is working to implement a 10-Point Child Friendly Agenda, which includes immunisation as a key priority, in the slums of Moradabad.
“It’s a great example of human-rights based, integrated programming,” said Nupur Pande, Project Officer in the UNICEF office of Uttar Pradesh. “We are not developing any new structures, but building the capacity of service providers,
Munni Begum has become a volunteer “change agent” in her immediate community. She and four other women work together to map the families in their neighbourhood, identifying babies that need to be immunised, mothers who need prenatal care and children who should be in school.
Begum makes sure that her daughter-in-law, Ayesha Parveen, who herself contracted polio when she was two-years-old and is now six months pregnant receives her folic acid supplements and other prenatal healthcare services. “If this awareness existed when I was raising my children, then this wouldn’t have happened to my son,” says Begum.
During each vaccination campaign, more than 98 per cent of children under-five years of age in UP and Bihar are immunised. Nearly 2.3 million vaccinators under the direction of 155,000 supervisors visit 209 million houses for each National Immunisation Day. (missing)
But despite these massive efforts, there are still some pockets of high risk areas where families refuse OPV due to misconceptions the vaccine will cause sterility or impotence. However, persistent efforts by community mobilisers like Munni Begum are playing a important role in educating the community about the benefit sof immunisation.
“We need to take the time and effort to explain to these families the value of vaccinating their children so they can understand the benefits while dispelling the myths surrounding immunisation,” said Adele Khudr, Chief of the UNICEF UP office
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