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Poor Routine Immunisation Percentage 41 per cent RI reported against national average of 60 per cent

Updated: June 16, 2012 2:18 pm

“While it may not always be possible to make editors change their priorities on development stories, remember a good story is every editor’s top priority.” This was what Dr Mrinal Pande, former editor of Hindustan and chairperson of Prasar Bharati had to share with her media colleagues. Ms Pande, chief spokesperson at the State Consultation on “Media’s Role in Supporting Routine Immunisation” held in Lucknow recently also advised journalists how to approach such stories.

She said that a reporter must find a good peg, angle, to the story, give it a human face, but still ensure that there was a hard-hitting punch that would force the news editor to find a page one slot for it.

“Why do we not ask questions with same intensity and sensitivity on vital issues like children’s deaths as we ask on political issues? This is also a serious topic and should be given importance and prominence,” said Ms Pande.

Uttar Pradesh which has concentration of the highest number of children in India unfortunately has a Routine Immunisation (RI) percentage of of only 41.The national average is 60. UNICEF, UP in collaboration with the Department of Health and Family Welfare is launching a media training initiative on RI in 15 low-performing districts from May to July 2012.

Analysing the present media trends Ms Pande said that if so much space could be allocated to moon-sighting, sunrise, sunset, films timing, television listings, surely the media could also allocate more space for social issues. She suggested that a people’s metre be created in the main editions of the newspaper where these details like RI percentage was recorded and readers could themselves see these figures.

She urged that RI reports be treated as ‘hard news stories’. This she said could be done by linking the child health and mortality rate in a district to the performance parameter of the MLAs. “He should be held responsible for the lack of development and health issues in his constituency,” she emphasised.

“Bring out his report card. Name and shame game will work well,” she said.

Referring to the book Poor Economics Ms Pande pointed out that the book brought out that 40 per cent of the money of the poor went in doctors’ fee and medicines. She urged the reporters to get pro-active and check facts for themselves by doing reality checks. She advised them to begin at the grassroots levels—visit Primary Health Centres, speak to the medical staff, write about their problems and therein would lie the solutions as to why there was a poor heath care service even though there was no dearth of money.

Ms Pande pointed out that “mass media” had an extensive reach. “We have both readers as well as audience for electronic media. The newspaper and electronic industry also has lots of funds. Media must take social issues more seriously and handle them with maturity and care.”

Adele Khudr, Chief, UNICEF Field Office of Uttar Pradesh, spoke at length on the synergy and collaboration between media and health professionals for supporting RI.

“UP is polio free since April 2010 and this is a great reason to celebrate. We must strengthen our pledge now to ensure that RI in UP is hiked up to at least 80 per cent,” said Ms Khudr adding that RI, a life-saving intervention a must for every child was a simple, low-cost and high impact immunisation programme. Like breast feed, it helps prevents disease and thus helps the poor spend less money on illness. She said that it seemed that though lots of work was being done and there was no shortage of resources it might be that their impact was not as much as desired because of high population and gaps in deliveries.

“Immunisation could reduce child mortality. It is an easy to monitor, straight forward and cost effective intervention. As many as two to three million children’s deaths globally from vaccine preventable diseases could be averted through RI,” she said.

Recalling a recent study done by UNICEF she pointed out one of its key findings suggested that given a choice, parents still did not give priority to immunisation. The role of media, which is a very vital part of the vibrant society, therefore should be that of a ‘motivator’ who has the power to change attitudes. Media must speak up for children. Media must become the voice of the children.

Ms Khudr urged all media persons to devote just 10 per cent of their work for children. Sounding a word of caution Ms Khudr urged mediapersons to investigate properly before they report children deaths or write anything against RI.

In India she said it seemed that people believed more in ‘curative’ than ‘preventive’ healthcare and that was why immunisation was on low priority.

The high dropout between first and next immunisation, mortal fear of side effects, appear to be other reasons for low RI percentage in the state.

Usha Rai, a development journalist, reported findings of media tracking on immunisation stories covered by both print and electronic media during a period of six months.

She said that these findings showed that a large percentage of stories published were generally negative stories. “They are what are termed as stories based on Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI) incidents.”

Joint Director for RI in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Dr AP Chaturvedi announced an intensified immunisation drive for UP. According to him, the RI drive would begin in the last week of May, and would continue till August, 2012.

 By Kulsum Mustafa from Lucknow

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