Imams, maulvis help to spread immunisation in Uttar Pradesh
For Shabana Begum, it was not easy to take her 10-month old daughter Zoya to the special immunization camp set up in Badaun district under 'Mission Indradhanush', an ambitious countrywide disease-prevention project in India that aims to cover all partially or unvaccinated children aged 0-2 against seven vaccine-preventable diseases by 2020.
She had to face stiff opposition from her family, who was fed on misconceptions about immunizing children.
"My in-laws had a notion that a child gets fever or develops inflammation at the spot after vaccination, so I was not being allowed to take my child to the immunization camp," Shabana Begum told this visiting IANS correspondent.
"The mobilizers (for the mission) played a great role in doing away with the misconceptions about vaccination. After several attempts at cajoling my family members, I could get my infant immunized against fatal diseases," she added.
Like Shabana, a large number of women in Badaun and Bareilly - 45 km apart and which have sizeable Muslim populations - faced the same problems about vaccination. It was here that the Uttar Pradesh health department, along with Unicef, played a great role in motivating people about 'Mission Indradhanush', which was launched by union Health Minister J.P. Nadda last month.
As the state authorities, along with WHO and Unicef teams, found that the community members had many doubts - mostly myths - attached to immunization, they turned to religious leaders like imams, maulvis and madrasa teachers as mobilisers or community influencers at the grassroot level.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Badaun Deepak Saxena told IANS: "People here refuse to bring their children for vaccination citing reasons like that the child gets fever and develops inflammation at the spot after immunization."
"Now, the imams make announcements about the immunization drive from mosques and encourage people to get their children vaccinated. They also clear the air over the misconceptions about immunization," said Hafiz Zamir Ahmad, Imam of a mosque at Kakrala town in Miyaun block of Badaun district.
According to officials, the two cities were chosen to be part of the first phase of 'Mission Indradhanush', which was launched in 44 districts of Uttar Pradesh that have the highest number of partially and unvaccinated children.
Health ministry data shows that only 65 percent of children in India receive all vaccines during their first year of life. Every third child in India is not immunized or is partially immunized.
Sayyada Ruhi, a community influencer who is also studying law from Bareilly, said that people refuse to bring their children to immunization camps. Such families are called 'XR' families. Detailing the hardships she faces in motivating people about vaccinating their children, she said, "XR families are still there but their number has reduced."
"We really had to make rigorous efforts to persuade them to send their children for regular immunization. We told them the immunization process has nothing to do with productivity, rather it was for the welfare of their wards," Ruhi told IANS.
Bareilly-based Wakeel Ahmad Ansari, whose designation is District Underserved Coordinator, regularly meets with religious leaders and requests them to educate the community people about the benefits of vaccination for their children.
He agreed that there are certain misconceptions among Muslims about vaccination.
"Not all, but most of the people from the Muslim community who are less educated do not send their wards for immunization. They do not know about the benefits of the vaccination drive," Ansari told IANS.
"To ensure full immunization of children from the Muslim community, we have contacted the religious leaders as they have a good influence on the community," Ansari said on the sidelines of a vaccination session at Jagatpur in Bareilly.
"The religious leaders made an announcement about the benefits of immunization. Large numbers of people from the community benefited from the effort," he added.
Zarina Khanam brought her two-month old granddaughter Alisa to an immunization camp in Bareilly after seeing her neighbour's infant dying of measles two years ago.
"With that incident, I realized the importance of immunization. My granddaughter is two months old and she has had her BCG, first dose of DPT and Hepatitis B vaccines," said 65-year old Khanam.
But this is not the only stumbling block.
Besides lack of awareness about immunization in the community, shortage of skilled staff is also a major problem in Bareilly and Badaun districts.
"We have 413 centres and at each centre, there should be one ANM (Auxiliary Nurse and Midwife). But we are short of 100 ANMs. Out of 129 newly-appointed ANMs, only 40 have joined as of now," Bareilly Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Vijay Kumar Yadav told IANS.
A similar situation prevails in Badaun, where there are only 271 ANMs against the required 321.
"Though we are short of skilled staff, we are hopeful of completing the target of immunizing 25,882 children and pregnant women in the district in four months under Mission Indradhanush," said Saxena, adding that there would be 1,967 sessions with 3,223 mobilisers and 272 vaccinators to meet the target.