Community mobiliser Amma with the "booth ghadi" (the clock indicating the booth timing) in the Lal Darwaza locality of Bulandshahar district. Amma has helped in reducing cases of refusal in the area.
By Sugata Roy
At her age most people would be content to spend their time on the charpai (cot), not on their feet. But not 73-year-old Naseeran. What happened years ago still haunts her, and she has made it her mission that no mother should repeat her mistake. Her youngest child Aasma, a daughter, suffers from polio because Nasreen did not get her immunized.
Driven now by a purpose that she will not let another child suffer the same way or parents make the same mistake, she goes from house to house discussing polio, answering questions and removing doubts.
She joined as a community mobilization co-ordinator (CMC) and member of the social mobilization network (SMNet)and turned her guilt into a mission.
While other women may attribute the plight of a polio-stricken child to fate, Naseeran takes responsibility for this. “After seeing my daughter’s condition, I promised myself I would not only not stop any child from being immunized, but would help others understand the need for it,” she says.
Her chance to set things right came when SMNet began looking for CMCs in 2003. She joined the polio eradication programme as a volunteer in the urban locality of Lal Darwaza in Bulandshahar district of Uttar Pradesh.
There were 110 XR (refusal) houses when she joined the SMNet. Her task was to get parents and community to understand the need for vaccination. Her success would result in refusal cases reducing.
The task was uphill, and she got threats of “dire consequences” initially. Undeterred, she would tell the people, “My daughter suffered because of me. Please don’t let this happen to your children.”
She did have an advantage though. Having lived in this area for the past 52 years, she knew the inhabitants of every household and doors would not shut in her face. Slowly, she began to succeed in convincing families. Soon, the people of the locality were calling her “Amma” – the grandmother.
Never having gone to school, Amma maintains her CMC Handbook with the help of her grandchildren (she has 25 of them and never lacks support). Lal Darwaza area auxiliary nurse midwife Gracy gathers all information about pregnant women and newborns from Amma.
Gracy is therefore able to provide routine immunization to all the children and no newborns go without polio drops. Today, the area has no refusals. More than 4,000 social mobilisers in Uttar Pradesh placed in the 40 high-risk districts keep refusals low consistently.
Amma’s relationship with the community helped open doors to the homes of resistant families of Qutub Darwaza and Rang Mahal area who were not convinced about the efficacy of the polio drops. When the Chief Medical Officer and the area’s medical officer requested Amma to attend community meetings, the tide against refusal turned. “There is no resistance in these areas now,” says Gracy.
SMNet has given Amma a new meaning to her life. “I feel energized when I move from house to house to ensure that no child is missed. I hope polio is eradicated in my lifetime,” she says.
The regret about Aasma’s handicap and her day-to-day struggle remains, but Amma seeks solace in her mission. “This should never happen to any child!” she says. Proud to be associated with SMNet, Amma says, “There can be no greater opportunity for me than this to rid the state of polio and to serve the children of my locality.”