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Cricketer Ravi Shastri bowled over by polio mobilisers

© UNICEF/India/E. Hussain/2005
Ravi Shastri in conversation with field workers of SMNet. Lucknow, June 2005

UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador Mr. Ravi Shastri was in Lucknow to motivate field workers of Social Mobilisation Network (SMNet) which is the cornerstone of communication support to the polio eradication effort in Uttar Pradesh (UP).


Lucknow, June 2005: On a hot summer morning, in the historic city of Lucknow, Ravi Shastri, international cricket commentator and former Indian cricket team captain, met with members of UNICEF’s 4,000-strong Social Mobilisation Network (SMNet).

“You are the real champions:” an overwhelmed Mr. Shastri told the grassroots workers.

“This is the real life match against the deadly polio virus. And I am happy that you have the passion and determination to make this mission possible” he said. 

While speaking to Mr. Shastri about the triumphs and tribulations faced by the mobilisers, Subhash Singh, the Social Mobilisation Coordinator in the dacoit-infested district of Badayun, said: “Six major rivers criss-cross our district. Boats and cycles are the only conveyances we can use. But we make sure each child receives polio drops in each round. Once we even convinced a hostage taker to allow us to administer polio drops to a two-year-old boy he had kidnapped.”

Safia Ahmed who works in western UP’s Aligarh district told Mr. Shastri the most frightening moment of her life. “I came across a woman whose distrust in the vaccine was so high that she would not listen to anyone. She refused to listen to her community’s religious leader, moneylender, elected representative and even her husband’s employer. As a last effort, I spoke to her.
“She got so agitated that she warned me she would throw her child on the ground if I did not go away. I decided to take her up on her challenge. Knowing fully well that I would be able to catch the child if the need arose, I told her to go ahead. Sure enough, she did throw her child. But I caught him in mid-air and got the child vaccinated.”

“The heart and soul of the network are the thousands of Community Mobilisation Coordinators (CMCs) who toil in scorching heat or pouring rains,” UNICEF State Representative Ray Torres told Ravi Shastri. CMCs are predominantly women and belong to the communities they serve through their interpersonal communication efforts.
A comprehensive programme of National and Sub-National Immunisation Days followed by house-to-house immunisation has been adopted to fight polio. Each year, about eight such rounds are held.


© UNICEF/India/E. Hussain/2005
The SMNet team members meet in Lucknow. June 2005

The Network, which now includes CORE and Rotary International, provides key support in the mobilisation of hard-to-reach children and families residing in underserved communities and ensures that all eligible children are immunised against the polio virus.

The Social Mobilisation Network has succeeded to a great extent in overcoming vaccine distrust behaviour and ensuring that all eligible children are vaccinated in the highest risk areas of UP. With the combined efforts of all partners and mass mobilisation, about 38.5 million under five-year-old children are vaccinated across the state in each round.

The results and the impact of the programme are there for all to see. From the 1,600 cases of polio recorded in 2002, spread over 159 districts across India, the disease was curtailed to just 134 cases in 43 districts in 2004. The success achieved in Uttar Pradesh is even more dramatic. From 1,242 cases recorded in the state in 2002, the number has come down to only 82 in 2004. This year, only eighteen cases of polio have been registered nationwide, of which seven have been recorded in Uttar Pradesh, which were confined only to some districts in western UP. This has been possible by the small and big efforts of the social mobilisers toiling for a healthy and a polio-free India.




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