Although uncommon for visitors it is usual for the residents of Jeevangarh to see a young woman whizzing down the lanes and by-lanes on her motorbike. The motorbike-borne Kusum Srivastava, lovingly addressed as aapa (elder sister) by her team of community mobilization coordinators (CMCs), rides through the colonies of Zakir Nagar, Malha Ka Nagla and Gali Seven and Eight in the Jeevangarh block of Aligarh. She is immersed in an adventure of sorts – the sort that saves children from polio. She does this by lifting the spirits of her team so that they give their best to the programme. Meet Block Mobilization Coordinator (BMC) Kusum Srivastava whose high-risk block (for polio) Jeevangarh stands apart in terms of its achievement in having near-universal acceptance of the polio programme.
There were 126 families who refused and resisted (sometimes tacitly) to immunize their children in the past. Now there are only three “resistant” families. “Soon we will convert them too,” said Dr Pahal Singh, the MOIC.
This is the result of relentless effort. Kusum keeps responding to alerts such as: “Aapa, two families are refusing to administer drops. They say that their children are sick,” says one of the CMCs. The aapa immediately kick-starts her motorbike and is back within minutes with the Medical Officer in-charge (MOIC) of Jeevangarh to address the problem of sick children. Along with the MOIC, she speaks to the families and wins their confidence. Without further hesitation the families allow the team to immunize their children.
When Kusum was assigned to the area, the network of CMCs and influencers (who support in reaching out to families in their areas) did not exist. She established the network and helped them through the difficult initial phase. “It seemed unmanageable. Families and the community leaders were not cooperative. But I knew this is because of they were not aware,” says Kusum. The tide turned with persistence and now with the help of seven committed CMCs and local influencers families not only accept polio immunisation but also routine immunization.” One of the families speaks up for Kusum: “We had a wrong perception about the polio programme. It was aapa and her team who removed all our myths. We believe in her,” says a mother.
Kusum is definitely in a job she wanted to do. She completed her masters in sociology, was a star hockey player and her coach wanted her to pursue a career in hockey but being a student of sociology she wanted to work for society, especially for women and children. “The Social Mobilization Network (SMNet) has given me that opportunity,” she says.