(By Dr. O P Kansal and edited by Dr. Pravin Khobragade)
Netea Tsering returned from a three day trek through the mountains. With his ever -ready smile he announced that all the 27 children below five years were reached and vaccinated for the first time ever in a remote hilltop village called Rho.
Rho is 20 kms from the Jang Primary Health Centre located in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh in the north-eastern corner of India. The only approachable road is a beaten track and therefore attempts made in the past either by the health staff or by the parents to get their children vaccinated were unsuccessful. Netea Tsering’s success reaching and vaccinating the never reached children is a part of new initiative by the Indian Government to immunise children who are at the highest risk of developing vaccine preventable diseases.
Another team of health workers - Yausing and Kasim - on their return walk of 9 kms to the Ballijan Primary Health Centre, had to hide for three hours in the jungle till a herd of wild elephants took their own time in departing from the only dirt road. However, their smiles displayed their pride of reaching this village of Papum Pare district for the first time ever and vaccinating two eligible children.
In another district of Upper Subansiri, a worried Dr. T. Gongo (District Reproductive and Child Health Officer) spent a sleepless night. He was concerned about his four health workers who had gone to remote mountainous areas to vaccinate 28 children may not have made it due to non-stop torrential rains. But three days later, all four returned much to the relief of Dr. Gongo. Although tired, the team was eager to vaccinate many more children in nearby areas as a part of the weeklong catch up immunization initiative.
Over 500 Children Vaccinated in Arunachal Pradesh
In 2006 for the first time ever, 543 children were reached in the 2nd round of the Immunization Week in Arunachal Pradesh. This was possible only because of the grit and determination of the health workers of the state, whose physical and mental endurance was tested to the limit to vaccinate children living in the mountainous areas.
UNICEF mooted the Immunization Week concept in December 2005 to accelerate the immunization coverage in poor performing states. This has immensely benefited Arunachal Pradesh as more than half of the habitations were reached for the first time in the history of immunization programme.
The resource allocation for immunization programmes in India is based on population to area ratio. This means allocation of resources to Arunachal Pradesh, spread over an area of 82,000 sq.km with a population of 1.1 million is significantly lower as compared to its neighbour Assam, which has an area of 78,000 square kilometers and a population of 9 million. Mobilisation of the field staff to far flung areas has been a major limiting factor - there are rivers to cross, long treks through the wild forest and hilly terrains which call for private transport to be hired to reach very small groups of population.
The Immunization Week initiative has been a great opportunity for health staff to make a special effort to reach the never-before-reached children and give them a fighting chance to survive preventable childhood illness in the initial years of their lives.