Voices of sanity in the wilderness

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Voices of sanity in the wilderness

Tuesday, 15 September 2020 | Jagannath Kompella

Due to the efforts of AIH, UNICEF and intrepid SHG workers, an entire village in Dantewada is free of its fears of immunisation

If interaction paves the way to heart-touching subjects, the person feels contentment and automatically ventilates with inner thoughts and feelings.” This quote of Elton Mayo, the father of human relations, got justification when the team of Alliance for Immunisation Health (AIH) interacted with Laxmi Kunjam, a Self-Help Group (SHG) member, who shared her diligent efforts for ensuring the immunisation of every child in her village at Koriras in Dantewada district, a project village affected by Maoists. The village posed a challenge to the Rural Health Organiser (RHO) because many new mothers were reluctant to get their infants immunised despite counselling. The reluctance was due to the prevailing myths and misconceptions that a child gets fever and develops other health issues after immunisation. However, this situation is changing slowly but surely as Kunjam, who was oriented and mobilised by the district coordinator during AIH interventions, has been actively engaged in tracking the children, sensitising the people on COVID-19, supporting the RHO during Village Health and Nutrition Day (VHND) sessions and coordinating with other SHG groups in the village on various activities.

Kunjam was encouraged by her husband, a school teacher, to get involved in the village developmental efforts. After getting orientation on Routine Immunisation (RI), hand-washing and COVID-19 from Babita, the district coordinator of AIH, Kunjam was motivated and started associating with the RHO in every VHND session and helped the ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) in bringing the children to the session for immunisation. She was linked with the Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) and RHO by Babita and allowed to participate in the training programmes. The AIH interventions, that are being handled by Babita, aim at ensuring immunisation and hand-washing at 24 hard-to-reach villages of Dantewada and Bijapur districts, by engaging local institutions such as women SHGs and panchayat-level institutions. One of the attempts of AIH includes the community engagement process where it links the PRI members, SHGs, stakeholders such as traditional leaders, teachers, ASHAs, AWWs (Anganwadi Workers), ANMs (Auxiliary nurse midwife), elected representatives and so on. Women SHGs serve as the main platform at villages for initiating activities and they are reaping constructive results due to their close proximity with the communities.

It is in this drive that Kunjam, as a group member, was trained by the AIH team, extensively on all the sections of immunisation, COVID-19 and hand-washing. She has been associated with the project since the beginning and started working for children in order to save them from diseases. The immunisation programme is fulfilling her objectives as it is the best preventive measure for a child.

The routine immunisation process was thoroughly internalised by Kunjam and she started following every instruction given by Babita seriously. Kunjam motivated her fellow group members and started working on extra miles. Her group visits every household of the village, who has a child to be immunised and informs the family on the programme. Once, she met a mother and found that the infant was not immunised because the woman feared that the baby would fall sick after getting the shots and drops. However, the child was immunised after Kunjam convinced the mother and the family that it was needed for his foundational health.

The system of tracking children, introduced by the AIH team, is being updated with the help of the Rural Health Officer and ASHA workers with necessary pre-alert, counselling, sensitisation and peripheral support. When Kunjam started updating the register and the tracking system, she realised that many children were vulnerable because of their mother’s misplaced fears. She felt that counselling them and clarifying their doubts was the need of the hour and she began an outreach programme.

Initially, she faced resistance from the villagers, who thought that she was getting monetary incentives for getting the children immunised. To convince them otherwise, Kunjam had to take the help of other SHG members, PRI members and the Mahila Panch to make home-visits and counsel women on the importance of routine immunisation. She visited every house with children below the age of 23 months and clarified their doubts. Today, due to Kunjam’s efforts, the entire village is free of its myths and fears about immunisation and new mothers have become conscious about the advantages of getting the children their shots. The Health Department has noticed this and Kunjam’s efforts are being cited by it as an example of how a group with progressive thoughts can cause positive change.  

(The writer is State Coordinator of AIH in Chhattisgarh and his work is supported by UNICEF, India.)

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