By Maria Fernandez
ALIGARH, India, 12 September 2012 - Meet 25-year-old Sabiya, one of the most committed workers of the Polio Social Mobilization Network (SMNet) in Uttar Pradesh.
Over the last four years, Sabiya, along with 5660 equally committed workers of the Polio Social Mobilization Network (SMNet), has worked tirelessly to help India stop transmission of polio, hopefully forever.
Based in Aligarh, a bustling city two hours south-east of Delhi, the strenuous efforts of Sabiya and SMNet workers have borne fruit – helping to reduce the number of polio cases in the city from 30 in 2001, to nine in 2009 and not a single one from 2010.
The SMNet was established in 2001 by UNICEF to address the pockets of resistance to polio vaccination in areas of western Uttar Pradesh.
In time, it expanded across the state and to neighboring Bihar. Over the last four years, Sabiya has been working as a Community Mobilization Coordinator (CMC) to make sure all children in high-risk Jeevangarh, a predominantly Muslim suburb of Aligarh, are vaccinated with oral polio vaccine every time it is offered.
“When I joined the network as a CMC, I met this family which kept on resisting vaccinating their children for three consecutive rounds. I did not accept no as an answer and kept on pushing until they got convinced about the benefits of the vaccine,” recalls Sabiya.
“When they finally got their child vaccinated, I felt that I had saved the life of a child. Though reaching out to parents and caregivers is time-consuming, it is very rewarding,” explains Sabiya with a smile.
Sabiya’s contribution to mobilizing communities for polio vaccination includes interpersonal communication with parents and caregivers during house-to-house visits and group meetings with mothers.
But spreading the message on the importance of immunizing children against polio and all seven vaccine-preventable childhood diseases is just one of the tasks Sabiya carries out.
“I also list all the children under the age of five, track expectant mothers and newborns, and liaise with religious leaders and other influencers in the area.”
In recent years, Sabiya and her colleagues in the Polio Eradication network have also been mobilizing the community on addressing polio-related issues such as vaccination for other diseases, hygiene and sanitation issues such as handwashing, the need for clean drinking water, exclusive breastfeeding (including colostrum feeding)_for the first six months of a child’s life, and diarrhea management through the use of zinc and oral rehydration solution.
Being a Muslim, Sabiya says that she has not encountered any obstacles in approaching the mothers.
“I belong to the same community and they listen to me and this facilitates my work,” says Sabiya.
Far from being complacent with achieving a polio-free India, Sabiya feels even more motivated to keep up the good work to ensure that the community she works with does not report a case of wild poliovirus ever again.
Send a congratulatory message to Sabiya and other committed workers of the Polio Social Mobilization Network (SMNet) who are working very hard to protect India’s children against an importation of poliovirus to ensure no child in India is ever needlessly crippled by polio ever again.
These messages will not only put a smile on the mobilizers’ faces but motivate the SMNet team to continue their work with zest and vigour.
The selected messages will be printed on a special UNICEF card and handed over to Sabiya and her colleagues.