Vaccination on wheels
On Board the Magadh Express, May 18: The search for “missing children” has taken UNICEF and other partners in the polio programme to bus stations, railway platforms, road intersections, and more recently into the passenger carriages of trains speeding across the plains of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. “The experiment yielded good results and we were able to vaccinate half a million more children than in previous rounds." However, the search for ‘missing children’ is not over,” says UNICEF State Representative for Bihar and Jharkhand Bijaya Rajbhandari.
A survey conducted by UNICEF revealed that a large number of children were constantly on the move with their parents, who travelled back and forth between different states in search of work. Such children, invariably, did not benefit from any vaccination drive. “We need to move with the children,” said Mr. Rajbhandari. Starting May 15, a polio drive was conducted nationally. Thirty mobile teams, comprising two vaccinators each, boarded trains entering Bihar through two major train junctions – Mughalsarai and Ballia - at cross border locations of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The teams achieved remarkable results.
The novel scheme reinvigorated the spirit of partnership that exists between the primary partners in the polio eradication programme – the Government of Bihar, UNICEF and WHO. The steps leading to the implementation of the drive were: identification of major trains carrying the largest number of people in and out of Bihar; selection and training of vaccinators; and planning of logistics. The route survey conducted by UNICEF, along with the Indian Railways, found that most trains entering Bihar from Uttar Pradesh passed through two major junctions from where they forked out into three major routes. The Indian Railways supported the initiative whole-heartedly and even issued special passes to vaccinators. The health department of Govt. of Uttar Pradesh arranged for the vaccine. “Within a few weeks, what arose as a thought resulted in well-planned action,” says Mr. Rajbhandari.
As many as two-thirds of the children travelling on the selected train routes were found unvaccinated on the first day of the drive. Most of them belonged to families in search of urban employment. A mother replied to a vaccinator’s query, “I wanted to get my children vaccinated, but there were many other priorities and I forgot.”
It is beyond doubt that most of the children vaccinated aboard these trains, particularly those travelling on the last two days of the five-day drive, would have otherwise missed the opportunity of getting vaccinated. “They were not vaccinated in Delhi, and by the time they reached their homes in Bihar, the drive would have come to an end,” says State Immunisation Officer Dr. R.K. Chowdhry.
A total of about 8,000 under-five children were vaccinated during this drive - 1,567 on the first day on the Mughalsarai-Patna, Mughalsarai-Gaya routes. The vaccinators have been appreciated for their efforts.
UNICEF has long been an advocate of transit and mobile strategy - the results of railway vaccination drive definitely reinforce the belief.