Thank Your Hero: Towards a Polio Free India
This milestone is being celebrated across India as the country’s greatest public health achievement. As recently as 2009, India accounted for nearly half of all cases of polio, and was long considered one of the most difficult places in the world to eradicate the crippling disease.
Over the last decade and a half, Gulshan Bano, along with 5,660 equally committed workers of the Polio Social Mobilization Network (SMNet), has been working, against all odds, as a Community Mobilization Coordinator (CMC) to make sure all children in Badaun, and are vaccinated with oral polio vaccine every time it is offered.
The SMNet was established in 2001 by UNICEF to address the pockets of resistance to polio vaccination in areas of western Uttar Pradesh. In time, it expanded across the state and to neighbouring Bihar.
Gulshan Bano hails from the remote rural hamlet of Pushgawan in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh. Married to a man from a traditional family, she had never stepped out of her house without the permission of her family before she joined the SMNet. “I knew, however, that I wanted to do more with my life,” she explains while adding that this is why she decided to join the SMNet.
“Initially, I thought it would be an easy job and all I had to do was to tell families and mothers to come and get their child inoculated,” remembers Gulshan. However, not everything was that easy as she faced serious resistance from families who were against the vaccine. “I couldn’t believe they were against these two vital drops. They threatened us, threw stones and invited us to not visit their houses again,” adds Gulshan.
Rigorous trainings, where the mobilizer was taught the art of persuasion and negotiation, gave her courage to get through the hard phase.
Slowly, but surely, Gulshan Bano, along with other SMNet members, religious leaders and community elders was able to influence the perceptions of people in Pushgawan about the need to protect their children from polio.
Gulshan’s contribution to mobilizing communities for polio vaccination included interpersonal communication with parents and caregivers during house-to-house visits and group meetings with mothers before each polio round.
Children in her neighbourhood call her Polio Didi (Sister). Her views are respected, and her own family takes great pride in her achievements. Today, there is not a single child in Pushgawan, who has not received polio drops, thanks to the work of Gulshan Bano and volunteers like her.
Uttar Pradesh was once a hotbed for polio and now thanks to Gulshan and thousands of volunteers like Gulshan Bano, that state has not reported any case of polio for more than four years now.
Far from being complacent with achieving a polio-free India, Gulshan feels even more motivated to keep up the good work to ensure that the community she works with does not report a case of wild poliovirus ever again.
Send a congratulatory message to Gulshan and other committed workers of the Polio Social Mobilization Network (SMNet) who have been working hard to protect India’s children against deadly polio virus.
These messages will not only put a smile on the mobilizers’ faces but motivate the SMNet team to continue their work with zest and vigour.