Reaching Out To Mobile Populations

© UNICEFIndia/2010
An old woman from Lohar, an ironsmith community in Chittoragarh district in Rajasthan confirms to the visiting mobile health team that all children in the community were administered polio drops during the pulse polio drive.

Pulse Polio teams visit underserved communities such as migrants and nomads to ensure every child is covered under the Pulse Polio drive

By Sumita Thapar

LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh, 1 April 2010 – It is mid-morning, a day after the completion of the Pulse Polio round in Gonda Block in the Aligarh district of the northern Indian State of Uttar Pradesh.

In an open space off the main road, an extended nomadic family of 25 adults and 10 children has set up their tents. The nomadic family comes from the Lohar, an ironsmith community in Chittoragarh district in the eastern Indian state of Rajasthan but has been living in these parts for generations.

An old woman, the eldest in the family emerges from the dingy tent and approaches the visiting mobile health team.

“We have given polio drops to our children. The polio team came a day before and all the children were vaccinated,” she says.

 A quick check of their finger nails confirms that all the children were administered the polio drops during the round conducted the previous day.

In every polio round across this district, health workers visit more than one hundred thousand houses covering over 85,000 children under the age of five.

Uttar Pradesh is India’s largest state with a population of approximately 191 million, out of which five per cent are from mobile communities.

The state reported 602 of the total 741 polio cases that were registered in the country in 2009 with 30 of these cases reported in the Aligarh District.

 “These nomadic groups and other migrant communities are constantly on the move and cannot be covered by booths or house-to-house visits,” says Zubeida Shahnaz, the District Underserved Co-ordinator (DUC) from the UNICEF Social Moblisation Network.

Her role it is to ensure the administration of polio vaccine to the underserved groups such nomads, migrants and minorities. The mobile teams visit all these groups individually and vaccinate their children.
Zubeida says nomads are suspicious of authority and often give misleading information and incorrect names. “They are difficult to track, Although these communities are not resistant to polio drops, the challenge lies in ensuring that no child gets missed in this mobile community,” Zubeida adds.

Meanwhile, the mobile team for the area ,which comprises of an anganwadi (day care) worker and an Auxillary Nurse Midwife (ANM), arrive at the site.  They inform that most of the children in the area had been covered.

“One family with four children under the age of five has gone to the village and is likely to return in a day or two,” says the aanganwadi worker.

The team will revisit over the next week to ensure these children also get vaccinated against polio.

A few minutes drive from the area is a brick kiln site where 80 labourers along with their 45 children including, two newborns, live in a temporary settlement.
All the children from the community were administered polio vaccine the day before. The labourers hailing from Gaya District in the neighbouring state of Bihar come to Uttar Pradesh in September and stay on till the onset of the monsoon in June.

With over 15% of polio cases in 2009 emerging from migrant communities, reaching these communities remains a crucial link to securing eradication in India.



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