Photo Credit -UNICEF/India/Dhiraj Singh
As we celebrate the World Immunization Week, meet Jayanti Pradhan, Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA).
Jayanti is one among the many ASHAs who work tirelessly to make sure every child in India is immunized against life threatening diseases. Importantly, Jayanti, like other ASHAs in the country do this job as part of their community service.
Thirty-three-year-old, Jayanti hails from Alikia village in Puri district of Odisha and for now almost a decade, this bubbly mother of two has been going door to door in her village to break the resistance to vaccination and make parents aware about the benefits of immunization.
In India, out of more than 27 million children born every year, 7.2 million children remain unvaccinated. The majority of these children who are missed out come from villages like Alikia. They are the poorest and the most marginalized and thus, those who need immunization the most.
Resistance to vaccination from parents and community is among the major reasons, these children are not vaccinated. “They feel if women are administered vaccines, their babies will be big and the delivery will be difficult,” says Jayanti.
She also has to deal with the elders of the village who prevent the pregnant ladies of the family to immunize the babies.
Being an ASHA for almost ten years, Jayanti has mastered the art of convincing the cynics in her village. She keep on approaching them about immunization over and over again.
A decade ago, Jayanti’s village had children with polio. “Once upon a time, even I was superstitious, but now I know better. At times, I have to visit these families four to five times in order to convince them that immunization saves lives,” she says.
Jayanti’s work starts long before a child’s birth. “I keep track of pregnant ladies, immunize them, and accompany them to hospital when they deliver to ensure no infant is left out of the programme,” says Jayanti.
Jayanti’s day starts at 8 A.M and it goes till noon, then she heads home to cook for her family. She feels that motivation is the toughest part of her job. She emphasizes that so far it has been a fulfilling journey for her as she has observed a huge improvement in the health of the villagers since the immunization programme started in Puri district.
“I feel very good to have helped our people,” she exclaims.
Despite studying up to standard 2, Jayanti exudes a lot of confidence. “I do a lot of talking, so when I get home I don’t feel like talking at all. But even when I’m home, my relatives ask me to talk to people to tell them about immunization,” Jayanti confesses with a hearty laugh.
ASHA workers in villages all over Odisha handle monitoring tools like immunization cards, temperature charts, tally sheets, vaccine stock registers, tickler boxes and vaccine passbooks.
As a result, diseases like tetanus, TB, diphtheria, pertussis, hepatitis B, polio, measles and influenza have drastically reduced which has positively impacted the mortality in infants and children below five.
ASHAs like Jayanti who have been used to increase vaccine coverage are also involved in making yearly micro plans to assess the requirements, access and other issues that are related to administration and delivery of vaccines in hard to reach areas.
“This grass root-level input is highly valuable and helps us assess why certain techniques don’t work. These inputs increase our effectiveness and prevents wastage of time and resources,” says Gyanendra Sahu, Chief District Medical Officer of Puri.
On a daily basis, Jayanti deals with families of labourers, farmers and small business owners in and around her village. Meenanti Pradhan is one of those housewives who is accompanied by her husband to the local health centre. “Jayanti has been telling me about protecting the baby from seven deadly diseases, so I'm here for her inoculation. She helped me a lot when I was pregnant,” adds this grateful mother of two.
As part of thank your Hero, send Jayanti, bouquet of congratulatory messages appreciating her work in her village in Odisha. Needless to say, she would be happy and very encouraged to do more such work with more zest with hundreds of mothers in her village.