Latehar (Jharkhand), Oct 11 (IANS) The broad smiles on the faces of two-year-old Nazeen and her mother Gufran Parveen are telling. The toddler is one of 5,517 targeted children, all of whom have undergone routine immunisation (RI), the absence of which saw the young succumb to dreaded diseases like measles — once very rampant but now sharply declining.
“The routine immunisation programme is a boon for us. Our elders till some years ago used to think that immunisation would lead to impotency, only to realise that children were succumbing to various dreaded disease due to ignorance of such programmes,” 22-year-old Parveen, who has completed most of the RI cycle for her daughter, told IANS.
After witnessing the efficacy of the programme over two years, neither Parveen nor any other young mother in the village sits at home nor runs away from the anganwadi (childcare) centers during the RI drives. In fact, now even if health workers are not able to reach distant villages located in Maoist-affected belts, the women voluntarily reach the Public Health Centers with their newborns — just to ensure that the RI cycle is not missed.
According to Jharkhand’s Health Department the 5,517 children were identified during Phase II of Mission Indradhanush – the Union government’s ambitious programme to ensure that all children under the age of two years, and pregnant women, are fully immunised with all available vaccines.
Of them, 4,400 were immunised by December 2015 while remaining children, who had migrated to other parts of India as their parents searched for jobs, were covered in January 2016 after they returned to Latehar.
“It is indeed an achievement to attain 100 per cent immunisation as per the target set. The biggest difficulty we face is to reach far-flung villages in the deep forests with the presence of Naxalites (Maoists), apart from the unwillingness of many of the people for immunisation, which is not the situation now,” Akshay Kumar Singh, Latehar district’s Immunisation Officer, told IANS.
Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda launched Mission Indradhanush on December 25, 2014, to ensure that children under two and pregnant women are fully immunised for seven vaccine-preventable diseases: diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, tuberculosis, polio, hepatitis B and measles.
In addition, vaccines for Japanese encephalitis (JE) and haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB) are also being provided in selected states.
In the first phase, 201-high focus districts across 28 states with the peak number of partially immunised and unimmunised children were identified. In the second phase, the aim is to achieve full immunisation in 352 districts, which includes 279 mid-priority districts, 33 districts from the northeast and 40 from phase one where a huge number of missed out children were detected.
The entire immunisation is carried out by Unicef, the concerned state Health Department and the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
According to Unicef, India has the largest number of births in the world — more than 26 million a year — and also accounts for more than 20 per cent of child mortality worldwide. Nine million immunisation sessions are organised each year to target these infants and 30 million pregnant women for RI.
Though some improvement has taken place, the country still accounts for the largest number of children — 7.4 million — who are not immunised.
Stating that Mission Indradhanush has boosted the RI programme among the people in the interior parts of Latehar by making them understand its importance, Singh said: “We have set targets for the Auxiliary Nurse Midwifery (ANMs) to do eight sessions of immunisation in every month. This mostly happens on Thursday and Saturday of every week. While one ANM stays at the PHC the other goes to the aanganwadi centers to ensure that immunisation can be done at both the places.”
Under the RI programmes, the Jharkhand Health Department has enrolled NGOs like Samaj Vikas Sanstha and VEDIC Society to reach the tribal belts, which very often remain inaccesible unreached due to migration of people to other parts of the country in quest of jobs.
A RI cycle sees a child receiving BCG and polio vaccine at the time of birth. This is followed by pentavalent vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and haemophilus influenza when the newborn is 1.5, 2.5 and 3.5 months old, respectively, along with doses of the polio vaccine.
At nine months, a child is vaccinated against measles, with a booster dose between 16-24 months old. A DPT booster dose is also administered in the same period. Vaccination against tetanus also happens between 10-16 years of age.
“Latehar is still on the verge of becoming a completely immunised district. If the work continues with the same pace the aim will soon be achieved,” Chandra Sekhar Singh, founder of VEDIC society, told IANS.
According to the Rajeshwar Singh, Lathehar district’s Civil Surgeon, “Due to the continuity in progress of the routine immunization, Latehar has witnessed 95 per cent immunisation.”
“We constantly monitor the children with families who have moved out as they are the only ones who are mostly left out,” Rajeshwar Singh added.
(The writer’s visit was at the invitation of Unicef and the Jharkhand Health Department. Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at Rupesh.firstname.lastname@example.org)