Protecting innocent children against deadly Japanese encephalitis disease in Assam
By Dr. Hamid Ali and Dr. Ajay Trakroo
Majuli, the cultural nerve center of Assam, is a Sub division in the Jorhat district of the State. This is also the largest riverine island in the famous Brahmaputra River in Jorhat where the whole administration of the sub division is located. There are about 40 ‘SATRAs ’ of the famous ‘Shankerdev ’, of which the four famous ones namely Auniati, Dhakhinpat, Garamur and Kamlabari are located in the Majuli sub division. They were the seats of authority during the famous Ahom Kingdom which ruled the State of Assam for nearly six hundred years at Charaideo before the arrival of the East India Company into Assam. The only connectivity to the main land of Jorhat is either the ferry service or the steamers which sail twice/thrice a day to and fro. Besides this, there is virtually no other means of communication with the mainland.
The ‘Missing ’ tribal community which comprises of almost 45% of the inhabitants is the majority population living there. The community, though very rich in cultural traditions, is very backward in education and hence it is really a big challenge to immunize the children of this underserved community. No wonder, the Japanese Encephalitis (JE) vaccination drive was an arduous task in this part of the world where superstitions rule and all forms of rumours spread very fast in the neighborhood. As a consequence, the early part of the campaign was not a success as envisaged and the coverage was dropped to 65% of the targeted population.
However, the social mobilization initiatives undertaken by the UNICEF Consultant through the Satra leaders helped in improving the situation. This was supplemented by the immunization mission very well undertaken by Dr. Sashi Dhar Phuken, Senior Medical Officer in-charge of the Japanese Encephalitis campaign at Kamlabari Primary Health Centre (PHC).
On the day of the Japanese Encephalitis Campaign in the Jorhat district of Assam, he made elaborate arrangements to take the required number of vaccine vials along with other logistics for a successful vaccination drive in the area. The team piled up the cold boxes containing the vaccines in a boat and set out on a long sail of two hours and reached the shore of the hamlet ‘Sadhu Chapori’ under the Kamlabari PHC. The team had to stride for another one kilometer on foot to finally reach the immunization site at the ‘Sadhu Chapori Govt. L.P School’ at about 1:00 pm.
Though the team members were exhausted after the long and tiring journey, the supervisors and the Senior Medical Officer worked enthusiastically for immunizing the community on JE that day. To our surprise, the crowd started pouring in to the immunization booth in large numbers and we had to set up two booths at different places within the hamlet to finally administer vaccines to almost 285 children by 5:15 pm. The team was very happy to have immunized about 95% of the target group this time under the Kamlabari PHC.
The mission was quite an experience in itself, on our way back the mechanized boat was stuck in the river line hillock and we were stranded and had to spend the night in the boat in the middle of the river. Nonetheless, all the team members were very happy on the success of their mission to protect innocent children against the deadly Japanese Encephalitis disease. Like the Ahoms forced away the invasion of the Mughals and the Bengal Sultans in the past, these children gained immunity to resist the likely attack for the Japanese Encephalitis by the successful JE vaccination campaign.