The efforts of the community influencers, who include local school teachers, grocers and other eminent people, have started bearing fruits as people have started realising the importance of immunising their children
Hafiz Zameer Ahmadâ€™s hands are full. Apart from being Imam of the local mosque and teaching at the madarsa Zikra Islamic Academy in Kakrala town in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh, he has now taken up the responsibility of creating awareness within his community about the importance of immunisation of children. Zameer makes announcements from the mosque after Friday prayer and on other religious occasions informing people how can protect their children by vaccinating them against seven deadly diseases.
However, Zameer is not alone as many other eminent people from the minority dominated locality are making concerted efforts to inform people about how immunisation is crucial for survival and good health of their children. While Shabir Ali Khan shows his own grandchildren being vaccinated to allay apprehensions among his neighbours about vaccination, local physician Dr Rizwan offers free medical treatment in his clinic to any child who develops any kind of complication like fever or inflammation after immunisation.
Religious leaders, who had played a crucial role in eradication of polio from the country, have now once again come forward to support Mission Indradhanush, launched by the central government on December 25, 2014 to improve immunisation coverage in the country from present 65 per cent to 90 per cent by 2020 against seven life-threatening diseasesâ€”diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, measles and hepatitis B.
The efforts of these community influencers, who include local school teachers, grocers and other eminent people, have started bearing fruits as people have started realising the importance of immunising their children.
Even though observing strict purdah system, women of this backward district, which is among 44 districts selected from Uttar Pradesh from among 201 districts of the country for the implementation of Mission Indradhanush in the first phase, are not behind in making efforts to protect their children. They hold their own separate â€˜Mata Baithakâ€™ where they read holy Quran and other religious scriptures and afterwards community mobilisers like Yasmin Usmani provide them information about the importance of immunisation and where the next vaccination camp is being held in the area. Elderly women, who were earlier opposing immunisation due misconceptions that it makes children impotent and also due to side effects like inflammation and fever, have gradually been convinced and now they themselves take children to health camps to get them immunised.
Ten months old Zoya Noor has been brought by her mother Shahana Begum to one such camp organised at a local school in the Badaun district to get her vaccinated. Faced with stiff opposition from the family elders who said that immunisation would cause fever, she took help of community influencers who played a crucial role in convincing her in laws about the importance of vaccination.
On the other hand, 65 year old Jamila Khatun of Jagatpur block in Bareilly district had brought her two month old granddaughter Aliza for immunisation camp after seeing her neighbourâ€™s infant daughter dying of measles two years ago. It opened her eyes and now Aliza has BCG, first dose of DPT and Hepatitis B vaccines. Dilshad Bi had brought her four year old son San Anwar for vaccination against Japanese Encephalitis which is prevalent in Bareilly district.
These are signs of change. But more efforts are required as Badaun has has just 61 perc ent immunisation of children as per government records, which is lower than national average of 65 per cent, while independent monitors like World Health Organization put the figure at a much lower 49 per cent, informed Dr Deepak Saxena, Chief Medical Officer, Badaun.
â€œApart from misconceptions, sometimes people even stall immunization drive to pressurise the authorities to meet their demands. In nearby Mohammadpur, people in the past had stopped immunisation to protest against closure of an unmanned railway crossing as it had increased their travel time and distance to the nearest railway station. Similarly, sometimes if the villagers face electricity failure due to power transformers getting dysfunctional, problem with ration distribution at the fair price shop or water logging, they forcibly stop immunisation drives to blackmail the authorities to fulfil their civic needs,â€ Dr Saxena said explaining the reason for low immunisation coverage.
There is about 30 per cent to 40 per cent left out or drop out children. The reason for it is lack of industries due to which most of people are dependent on agriculture. During lean season or in case of crop failure, poor people migrate to some other place in search of livelihood due to which children are left out or drop out. Also manpower crunch for immunisation is a major problem as out of 321 ANMs required there are only 253 at present. Recently 90 ANMs were deputed, but only 18 out of them took charge. He said that 1970 vaccination sessions have been planned to cover the left out and drop out children.
Similar is the situation in Bareilly which has just 56 percent district immunisation coverage. It was earlier included in the list of high risk area for polio. Regular survey has revealed that many people here still do not bring their children to immunisation camps. Such families are called ‘XR’ families. Special focus is given to motivate people in such families about vaccinating their children, said Anjali Bharadwaj, a community mobiliser present at a weekly immunization camp in Jagatpur. The Jagatpur block has 80 percent minority population and large number of floating migrants. She said that during regular visits to such families efforts are made to remove their misconceptions. Also, an eye is kept on all pregnant women of the locality to ensure that they get regulation vaccination to ensure smooth delivery of a healthy child and reduce maternal and infant mortality.
Wakeel Ahmad Ansari, District Underserved Coordinator appointed by UNICEF which is working along with the government to improve immunisation, regularly meets with religious leaders in Bareilly and requests them to educate the community members about the benefits of vaccination for their children by helping remove their misconceptions. At local Urs at which 6 to 7 lakh people converge, announcements are made by religious leaders and pamphlets distributed to educate people about immunisation.
Dr Vijay Kumar Yadav, Chief Medical Officer of Bareilly, said that special efforts are being made to children of people working on brick kiln and those migrating to other areas to make Mission Indradhanush successful in the district. Meticulous planning, proper training of the staff and effective monitoring is the key strategies being followed to make the endeavour a big success. This is crucial for reducing infant mortality and morbidity and improve the overall health parameters of the people.
By Annapurna Jha