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Reaching mobile populations with polio vaccine in India

© UNICEF India/2010
An elderly woman from Lohar confirms to the visiting mobile health team that all children in the community were administered oral polio vaccine during the 'Pulse Polio' drive supported by UNICEF India.

By Sumita Thapar

LUCKNOW, India, 14 April 2010 – A recent polio immunization campaign in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh succeeded in treating some of the most difficult-to-reach families in this area – mobile labourers.

In Aligarh district, an extended nomadic family of 25 adults and 10 children set up tents in an open space off the main road. The family hails from Lohar but has been working in Uttar Pradesh for generations.

The eldest woman in the family emerged from the tent and approached the visiting mobile health team. “We have given polio drops to our children,” she said. The polio vaccination team came a day before, she explained, “and all the children were vaccinated.”

© UNICEF India/2010
A mother and her daughter, from a family of mobile labourers, sit in their temporary settlement in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Reaching underserved groups

The ‘Pulse Polio’ drive – an immunization campaign supported by the Government of India, UNICEF and other partners – is making strides in reaching nomadic families like the ones in Aligarh. During every polio round across this district, health workers visit more than 100,000 homes, covering over 85,000 children under the age of five.

Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state, with some 191 million residents, an estimated 5 per cent of whom are from mobile communities. The state reported 602 of the total 741 polio cases that were registered in the country in 2009, including 30 cases reported in Aligarh district.

Zubeida Shahnaz works as an ‘underserved co-ordinator’ with UNICEF’s Social Moblization Network – a web of thousands of local mobilizers integral to ensuring vaccination coverage. Ms. Shahnaz’s role is to coordinate immunization for nomads, migrants and minority groups in her district.  

© UNICEF India/2010
Family member of labourers hailing from Bihar state stand in their temporary settlement in Uttar Pradesh, India. All the children from this mobile community were administered polio vaccines during the government- and UNICEF-supported 'Pulse Polio' drive.

“These nomadic groups and other migrant communities are constantly on the move and cannot be covered by booths or house-to-house visits,” said Ms. Shahnaz, adding that nomads are often suspicious of authority. “The challenge lies in ensuring that no child gets missed in this mobile community.”

A crucial link to eradication

Mobile teams consisting of an ‘anganwadi’ (day care) worker and an auxillary nurse-midwife arrive at each temporary settlement. They administer oral polio vaccinations and make sure to re-visit the site over the following weeks in order to ensure that all the children have been reached.

At a brick kiln site in Aligarh district, some 80 labourers – along with their 45 children – live in a temporary settlement. All the children from the community have just been immunized against polio. The labourers come to Uttar Pradesh each September and stay until the onset of the monsoon rains in June.

With over 15 per cent of polio cases in 2009 occurring in migrant communities, reaching them remains a crucial link to securing polio eradication in India.



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