UNICEF Executive Director Urges Focus on Most Vulnerable Children to Save Lives
By Angela Walker
Her mother, Nilam, cannot walk from her nearby home to this Village Health and Nutrition Day (VHND) site as she herself contracted polio when she was a child of two.
UNICEF’s Executive Director, Anthony Lake, visited the Indian state of Bihar today where he administered polio drops to babies brought by their families to be immunized at the VHND, which offers integrated health services to villagers once a month.
Mobilizers also promote routine immunization, diarrhoea management with oral rehydration salts and zinc, hand-washing, toilet use and exclusive breastfeeding at the block and community level, where it is most needed.
“What you are doing here in India today – focusing on providing targeted services at the community and health facility level, strengthening the continuum of care and developing a framework for following up throughout a child’s life with other lifesaving interventions, is a blueprint for us all and the world should be watching your progress,” Lake said.
Bihar has witnessed a 400 per cent jump in full immunization coverage over the last five years. Even with this impressive gain, only slightly more than 49 per cent of children are fully immunized compared to 61 per cent throughout India.
Auxiliary Nurse Midwife Geeta Devi wears a baseball cap festooned with the logos of the polio partners and dark shades to protect herself from the bright afternoon sun. Booths are draped with bright spangled red, blue, orange and yellow fabric and dotted with colorful pictorial posters teaching the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, washing hands with soap and oral rehydration for diarrhoea treatment.
For each child that receives their two drops of protection against polio, Devi colors their pinkie nails with a black marker to show that they have been vaccinated.
“The rich have money, and they can go to another place. The poor people have nothing,” she explains. “It’s impossible to get to the health clinic because of the road and the transport costs. I’m helping the entire community’s pregnant mothers and their children with routine immunization.”
Nineteen-year-old Radha Devi has brought her baby boy, Rohit, to get his polio drops. Her husband works in a clothes factory in the state of Punjab, and she lives nearby the VHND site with her mother-in-law.
“The ASHA (community mobilizer) told me to come,” says the slight young mother, vermillion streaking the middle part of her hair, as her baby wriggles impatiently in her arms. “She says if I give my child this drop, it will help him get strong.”