Crippled by polio
“Would you like to see your child crippled like me,” asks Mehrab Jahan as she counsels families to vaccinate their children against polio, in this village in Moradabad district of India.
For the 24-year old girl, her twisted leg is a driving force to fight the spread of polio virus and deter people from resisting immunization. “I know what it is to be a handicapped, I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
Born to a poor farmer in Ratanpur Kala village, Mehrab got polio when she was
one-and-half-year old. She is unable to forget moments of her childhood when she longed to run and play like her five siblings.
But instead of brooding over her inability, Mehrab has always looked ahead. She forced her conservative family to allow her to go to school and take up higher education. Mehrab’s father, who never sent his eldest daughter to school, relented, more out of remorse and guilt for not having immunized his children which could have prevented polio.
Though everyone was sympathetic and encouraging, Mehrab recalls, there were students who would tease her and teachers who would scold her for coming late to school, which was far from her village and Mehrab would often get late, unable to walk up to the bus station in time.
With these unforgettable memories, when Mehrab saw the polio team in her village, she decided to work for eradicating the disease which, though preventable, continues to cripple and even kill children.
“I approached the team but they initially refused, apprehending that I may not be able to work”, says Merhrab who joined UNICEF’s Social Mobilisation Network (SMNet) in August 2004 as a Community Mobilsation Coordinator (CMC) in Ratanpur Kala.
It was indeed not easy for Mehrab as elders in the family strongly opposed her decision. Also Ratanpur Kala was a tough area. Among the 450 houses assigned to her, 80 to 90 had been resisting polio vaccination for quiet sometime. They had misconceptions that the vaccine would cause impotency and harm their children.
It was difficult to make them shed these inhibitions but Mehrab did not give up. “To convince them, I repeatedly visited them and told them about the hardships I face because of my physical state.”
A private practitioner in the village and a ration dealer often accompanied her and helped influence the families, says Mehrab.
Slowly, the resisting families started changing. Today there is not a single household in the village which opposes polio immunisation, Mehrab proudly says, showing her field book where she keeps a record of all the families.
Ratanpur Kala, a cluster of 3,000 households, last reported a polio case in January 2006. The village, under Kundarki block was among the many challenging areas of
Moradabad, once famous for beautifully crafted brassware but now infamous for the polio virus.
Mehrab is one of the three CMCs in Ratankalan. CMCs counsel families and impress upon them the need to vaccinate their children. They track children, maintain family records, build networks and generate support for the campaign within the community.
The CMCs are part of the extensive SMNet working tirelessly to build positive behavior and support for the pulse polio programme in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh which accounts for 83 per cent of the polio cases in the country.
Mehrab is positive that polio will surely be eradicated.
The polio eradication program is the single biggest immunization campaign in India.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), together with its partners Rotary International, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF are supporting the Government of India in its efforts to immunize children against the crippling disease.