Irene Babille is a student at the American International School in New Delhi. Earlier this year, she participated in India’s National Polio Eradication Programme, as part of her schools’ community outreach effort. Irene’s work was coordinated through UNICEF, which support an intensive polio communication campaign. This is a first-hand account of one of Irene’s field visits – in this case, to western Uttar Pradesh, one of the mostly highly infectious areas in India for polio.
Ghaziabad, India. I had never been to Ghaziabad in the four years I lived in New Delhi, nor had I participated so actively in the UNICEF polio effort as I did on 28-29 November 2007 when I joined a field visit to participate in community mobilization efforts, and Polio Booth Day.
Dr. Jayanti, the leader of the UNICEF-supported social mobilization crew for the Polio Program in Ghaziabad, led my tour as she absorbed me into her daily routine work. We drove to Ghaziabad in the morning to a local school where around 50 kids, all between the ages of 5 and 8, were grouped together holding yellow polio campaign banners, flags and hats. I had the opportunity to talk with a few teachers from the school and a few religiously influential people within the community, asking them what their role was in the Polio campaign and the struggle to eradicate a global menace. I joined the children as they started the rally a while later and we strolled the streets of the village, chanting sentences that publicized the Polio Booth Day occurring the following day.
Locals were moved to join the rally and participate in the advertising of polio eradication. Journalists brought themselves to attend the rally and document what was occurring and, seeing as I was the only non-local within the rally, they asked me a few questions on my thoughts about the program and why I was in Ghaziabad. The next day I found out I had appeared in the local paper as shown in the picture below of me with the children and the members of the social mobilization program, leading the rally.
The same day, Dr. Jayanti brought me along to a meeting held for doubts and inquiries various women (mostly pregnant) expressed about the polio vaccine. A translator explained to me that many women thought the vaccine was harmful for their child and how other women they knew had problems when they let their newborn child take the vaccine.
Dr. Jayanti and other nurses who were present reassured the women that the vaccine was not responsible for the various colds or problems the children had once having taken the vaccine and that there was no danger in taking it, moreover, that it was better for their children since they would be immune to the virus. I thought the method of grouping the concerned women and answering any questions they might have was a great one since they could then be aware of what occurred to their child when he/she had taken the vaccine. In my opinion, this would increase the number of people who attend the Polio Booth Days.
After the experience at the local meeting, I had the opportunity of being taken around house-to-house visits, where a community mobilizer (CMC) would go to each house in a part of the village to tell the members of the house about the Polio Booth Day occurring the next day and how they should attend and bring any children. She would then mark the house as visited or not, according to if the members were home, if they rejected the proposal of vaccination and other categories. The one-on-one contact this mobilization method incorporates is extremely efficient since having a local CMC would influence the members of a family to send their children for the Polio vaccine, being able relate to her more.
Furthermore, if a family rejects the vaccine, the CMC sends an influential person to try and convince the family that there are no dangers in vaccinating their children and that it is good for them. This person may either be a religious figure or not depending on if the family in question is religious. This does not necessarily work. As explained to me by a colleague of Dr. Jayanti, if a family refuses, it is rare that they change their mind even for religious reasons and therefore, since the campaign cannot force families into taking the vaccine, this family is left alone. The use of these figures, however, is important since you can never know and you want to do whatever is possible to ensure more vaccinated children.
The next day was Booth Day. Dr. Jayanti took me to a several booths to check their efficiency and how many people had shown up compared to the total amount of people in that specific area of the village. She explained to me the geographical locations of the various booths and how the volunteers had to document everything so that the statistics on how many people came to the Booth Day compared to how many people lived in that definite area of the village could be calculated. I vaccinated several children and had the chance to take part in other interesting interviews. The head of the village and his wife invited me and Dr. Jayanti into their home because they stated that they were very thankful for having us help their people understand the importance of polio vaccination.
In conclusion, I am honored in participating in the UNICEF support to India’s Polio Campaign for both the mobilization process as well as the Booth Day the following day. I think that many things are being done to ensure that the cases of polio virus and infection decrease, and that the cherished goal of the organization and its journey towards the virus’ eradication are well under way of achieving great results.