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Soha Ali Khan spends a day with polio workers

© UNICEF/India/2007
Soha Ali Khan visits Ghaziabad

By Shamila Sharma

Ghaziabad, U.P

For polio vaccinators and UNICEF’s community mobilization coordinators (CMC) in Ghaziabad, February 6 was an unforgettable day, when none other than film actor Soha Ali Khan spent a day with them.

Donning a bright orange kurta and stole on blue denim jeans, the beautiful young lady whom they had seen only in movies, sat with them, interacted with them and encouraged them to continue their struggle against polio.

 “We are in the last leg of the long marathon against polio. The last leg is always the most crucial and the toughest when that extra effort is needed to win”, Soha told them.

Ghaziabad district is situated in western Uttar Pradesh, where the polio virus is endemic. The maximum number of polio cases in the state is from the western region because of which it has been the focus of the polio eradication programme.

Around one million children are immunised in Ghaziabad district during each round.

The vaccinators shared their experiences with Soha. While one pointed out the resistance offered by affluent families, another recounted the opposition by some Muslim families.

Soha promised to spread the message for polio vaccination wherever she goes, to help end resistance to the vaccination.

Daughter of celebrity parents – former Indian cricket captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and veteran Bollywood actor Sharmila Tagore – Soha is keen to leverage her celebrity status and reach, to work for the people. Her parents have been actively engaged in such programmes.

© UNICEF/India/2007
Soha Ali Khan with polio workers

Soha’s visit to Ghaziabad, was her first such endeavour.  “Today I stand here before you like you did when you joined UNICEF SMNet (social mobilization network) and went to the first family advocating the need for polio vaccine”.

“I am here to learn from you all”, she told the CMCs, who were just as eager to share their experiences with her.

A CMC narrated how a child, who the family used to hide every time the polio vaccinators visited, once fell from the first floor of the house in her presence.

“The child was hurt and bleeding. I wiped the blood from his forehead and took him to the doctor.  That changed the family’s behaviour. They started coming to me whenever they needed help. They not only started giving polio drops to their child, but also helped end resistance by neighbouring families.

The CMCs and vaccinators asked Soha to visit their areas the next time she came to the district to help with resistance issues. “Celebrity messages have more impact,” they said.

And the impact was indeed evident, at least on the CMCs and vaccinators. Soha’s visit had come as a boost for them.

They pledged “Nahin chodenge abki baar, koi bachcha koi dwar” (this time we will ensure not a single child or household is left out).

As Soha left Ghaziabad, the enthused polio workers set off for their respective areas to work with more vigour in the upcoming February 11th round. 

On the same day 11th February,  Rang de Basanti, the youth oriented  film in which Soha starred will  receive the BAFTA award  (the British “Oscar) for the best foreign film.   Soha herself will later receive the Bengal Film Critics’ award for best actress for her role in the same film.

 

 

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