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India: Tide turns for immunization in Uttar Pradesh

© UNICEF India/2005
A child recieves a vaccination with an ‘auto-disable’ syringe.

By Radhika Srivastava

UTTAR PRADESH, India, 28 June 2005 - Until a few months ago, vaccinations in villages in the Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh meant painful jabs and unpleasant memories, as syringes often had to be sterilized and reused, dulling their tips. As these blunt-pointed syringes pierced delicate children’s skin, many mothers did not have the heart to subject them to vaccination again. 

Another problem was maintaining a reliable cold chain delivery system: getting vaccines to village-level vaccination centres meant removing them from refrigerated storage for transport, exposing them to high temperatures, thus risking losing their potency.

But all that is changing. Today, a UNICEF-supported programme to boost immunization against preventable diseases in Saharanpur has introduced new ‘auto-disable’ syringes, and a new vaccine delivery system has substantially increased the number of children who are protected. 

Compared with 40,600 vaccinations in April last year, about 64,400 vaccinations were given to children in April 2005.

The auto-disable feature of the new syringes means these cannot be reused after a single injection. And mothers are overjoyed to find that the new syringes are causing their children much less pain.

© UNICEF India/2005
Parents and caregivers are coming in ever greater numbers to have their babies and children inoculated.

The improved vaccine delivery system means vaccines are packed in cold boxes for their jounrey to guard their effectiveness. Cold boxes are sent to the vaccination centres every morning, sparing front line health workers hours on public transport taking the vaccines from public health centres to the villages.

Parents and caregivers are coming in ever greater numbers to have their babies and children inoculated.

“The new syringes are far better than the ones used earlier. The old syringes had very thick needles and I remember how Shakir cried and cried when pricked with those needles. Earlier I would hesitate to bring him for vaccination,” said Shahnaz Bano, a resident of Thaska village and mother of a one-and-a half-year old.

One Public Health Centre doctor expressed his appreciation for the new generation of syringes. “Before we received the auto-disposable syringes from UNICEF, we were using glass syringes that would have to be boiled and sterilised after every use. Repeated use also left many needles blunt, making the experience very painful,” he said.

But with the new syringes in place, parents flock to the vaccination centre with their children when the nurse comes to a village every Wednesday and Saturday. The vaccination sessions begin early and most children are vaccinated and sent home by noon, before the searing heat sets in.

Carrying out the immunization programme has improved considerably. Suman Lata, who is in charge of the vaccination centre in Thaska village, said things are much better: “Earlier, I would dread holding a vaccination session. On a vaccination day, I would have to visit the Public Health Centre in the morning and then carry the vaccination boxes back to the village. To do so, I needed to change two buses and finally walk about three kilometres in the heat,” said Ms. Lata.

“It took all of three hours to get the vaccine to the village and the vaccination session would start only after 11 a.m. And soon it would become so hot that very few mothers and children would come to get their shots.”

But the new initiative is making life easier for the health workers, and has improved the quality of life for the children of Saharanpur.



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