It took three years, a brave mother, a determined Community Mobilization Coordinator, a conscious imam, a pro-active gram pradhan and a concerned doctor to get Naeema’s third child, Zaid vaccinated.
House No. 238 in Pakbara village -Moradabad district- in the northern Indian State of Uttar Pradesh was for years an impenetrable citadel. Its peach-coloured walls and the only small entrance guarded fiercely by 60-year-old Azgari Begum
Inside the fort lived Naeema Farukh, her daughter in law, a troubled mother of two ill children. Sameer, her first baby, was barely a day old when he contracted jaundice. A month later, he came down with pneumonia
“Both my kids have never fully recovered and are still very weak, which has affected their physical and mental health.” Sameer and Saba had never been vaccinated, refused even the polio drops
Rumours and suspicion against vaccination ran deep among the 70 per cent Muslim community in Pakbara village. Lack of awareness, unavailability of human resources, misconception and myths related to after-effects of Diphtheria
But three years back, the Uttar Pradesh Government in partnership with UNICEF and the World Health Organization renewed its focus on Routine Immunization in high risk areas like Pakbara village in Moradabad district
Utilizing its extensive network of Community Mobilization Coordinators (CMCs), UNICEF has built on the successes and lessons learned of its polio eradication campaign to increase acceptance of immunization among the community
The databank is then shared with frontline health workers like Auxiliary Nurse Midwifes (ANMs) for vaccine procurement and ASHAs (An Accredited social health activists (ASHAs) and Anganwadi workers to spread awareness on institutional deliveries and breastfeeding.
But changing attitudes in a closed-knit community needs more than just door-to-door counselling. Pakbara has 23 mosques and seven madrassas. Aided with quotes from the Quran (religious book) that promote child health, safety, hygiene and value of life, CMCs began mobilizing religious heads like imams.
Besides imams, Hajis (people who return from religious pilgrimage to holy city of Mecca), gram Pradhan (village elders), local doctors and other community influencers were also approached and inducted, handed the responsibility of breaking the resistance to vaccination.
Finally, it took three years, a brave mother, a determined CMC, a conscious imam, a pro-active gram pradhan, a concerned doctor and faith in science to get Naeema’s third child vaccinated.
Across India, Routine Immunization programme is catering to 27 million infants, saving four lakh children’s lives each year. In March 2013, there were 215 families in Pakbara alone which were refusing immunization.