COVID-19 pandemic and immunisation challenges

All the Self Help Group/Mahila Aarogya Samiti/women’s group members were trained on COVID-19, safety measures and more.

By Prachi Raturi Misra

A bright pink and yellow, synthetic sari, neatly pinned, a green mask on her face, Sulekha Devi’s dark eyes shine bright, the brightness that comes from doing something good. “I am a Corona warrior”, she says proudly. Sulekha Devi is just one of the many women in rural India who show the power of community effort and its impact.

COVID-19 brought it with a host of challenges, throwing life out of gear. Rural areas, took a big beating, a big challenge being, keeping immunisation programmes running as well as dissemination of information of COVID-19.

Sulekha Devi, from Iama village, block Fatehpur, district Gaya then became one of the several thousands of women across rural areas in India whose training under the Alliance for Immunisation and Health (AIH)-UNICEF programme, had to be upped to help fight the pandemic.

While she became a member of Jeevika group in 2013 a year late she was selected as community mobilise. And though she had received training on routine immunization and handwashing with soap in the first phase of the project, when the pandemic reared its ugly head, Phase – II, of the project had to be restructured to meet the new challenges.

All the Self Help Group/Mahila Aarogya Samiti/women’s group members were trained on COVID-19, safety measures and more.

After receiving training on May 22nd 2020 Sulekha came to know that three migrant labourers from Kolkata and one migrant labourer from Ranchi had arrived into her village. These migrant labourers were not willing to go for institutional quarantine. Sulekha Devi’s training kicked in. She and other SHG members went and spoke to the family and labourers, explaining to them, the need for quarantine.

But her’s isn’t the only story of community participation. Take, for example, Archana Desale, District Coordinator of Nandurbar, one of the five districts of Maharashtra where she faced a tricky situation on the field. When she went to meet SHG workers in Shahada Hariyali Gate area. When reached, she realised except for one Asha worker, there was no one else. After much difficulty, she found out that all SHG workers had gone to work in a field as daily wager earners since. “Many people had lost jobs and didn’t want to lose any opportunity to earn money” she shares.

But what made Archana’s job more challenging was the fact that she knew none of the SHG workers would have the time to speak to her because it would mean losing money from their daily wage. But she didn’t want to give up, not without trying. “. I called the contractor and requested to allow the SHG members working under him to sit for a brief meeting on COVID management and preparedness. ‍ At first, he did not agree to my request, but after briefing him on the outline of the program and purpose he agreed to allow them to speak to me during their lunchtime.”

Desale decided to wait and ended up briefing 11 SHG women. What made the meeting rewarding, she shares is the fact that the contractor also thanked her for helping him understand the pandemic better, she says with visible satisfaction.

In remote villages like Koriras of Katekalyan Block of Dantewada, the challenges were not just pandemic related.

Ask Laxmi Kunjam, a much respected SHG worker, thanks to her dedication to making sure every child in the village is immunised. Take for example the fact that in the month of June, she conducted inter-personal communication with more than 80 mothers in the village and its surrounding villages to make sure she disseminated the need for immunisation. “We don’t want even a single child should be missed for immunisation from our village. We will keep thinking on this line always.”

To restore universal immunisation, steps were also taken by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW) during the pandemic.

And if numbers are anything to go by, as per Health Management Information System (HMIS) 37,49,939 children were fully immunised in rural areas from April- June 2020 whereas 46,75,437 children have been fully immunised in rural areas during the same period last year.

After each immunisation session, due list of beneficiaries is prepared to track and trace individuals who have missed their regular vaccine including individuals, who have missed vaccination due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is hoping the drive continues!

(The author is an Independent Journalist. Views expressed are personal.)

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