National Immunisation Days
To eradicate polio it is not just good enough to provide funding for the vaccine, it has to be administered. National immunization days are key components of the eradication of polio. During these days, volunteers help immunize millions of children with the oral polio vaccine.
Once immunised, a child's 'pinkie' little finger is dyed purple to keep track of who has already been given the vaccine. It is now known as the 'Purple Pinkie'.
National Immunisation Day 2009
In 2009 PP Marnette Lyons joined one team on a vaccination programme in India.
She helped administer the Polio vaccine for Rotary's Thanks for Life-End Polio Now Campaign - National Immunisation Day which took place on November 8 2009 in Bareilly in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
On the day, thousands of children across the country were protected from the crippling and paralysing polio disease.
As well as visiting orphanages, schools hospitals and local medical centres, volunteers travelled to the slums of Delhi where hundreds of people survive by scavenging through rubbish heaps and there are no sanitation measures.
The team also went on the road to the remote villages, knocking on doors and immunising the children with the special polio vaccine as part of the service to the communities.
The trip was an amazing experience and the following is her description of that true Rotary Service – "Service Above Self" as presented to the Club 30th November 2009.
"The visit was an emotional roller-coaster ride which nothing can prepare you for. Bareilly, where my group was based, was in a very poor area and senses were totally bombarded. We saw, heard, smelt, felt and tasted authentic India.
Seeing the terrible suffering caused by polio spurs you on to take action. This vaccine costs less than a penny per child so we can save thousands of young lives. If you were to meet these children you would do everything within your power to make sure they did not suffer from polio. You would want to ensure they had a better future.
It has been such a privilege to have been part of the historic effort to rid the world of a crippling polio disease that has impacted millions of lives throughout the centuries. An effective vaccine has made polio totally preventable so no child today should have to suffer from the disease. The feeling of saving a child from polio is very difficult to describe, however the image of this very tremendously worthwhile experience will be in our memories for the rest of our lives."
Upon arrival in Delhi on the 6th November we were immediately whiskey away to a briefing meeting chaired by PDG Deepak Kapur, Chairman Rotary's India National Polio Plus Society. We received a very warm welcome from Kalyan Banerjee, Rotary International 2011-12 president-nominee.
We were advised that communication has played a critical role in the drive to eradicate polio from India. Not only has Rotary funded vast quantities of the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) and provided countless man hours of service distributing and administrating the vaccine, it was also given the task to ensure better acceptance of the vaccine in a country where myths prevented many children being presented for vaccination
Since the start of the polio campaign 4-6 million children in India have been saved from Polio. On a single day, January 21, 2001, 150 million children under five years of age in India were immunized. However, we were informed of the unwelcome news that the success of the past years in bringing down the number of polio infections appears to have been reversed. Today polio is endemic in 2 high risk states in India, Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar. The main reasons for this are Environmental and Demographical including the high population density, poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, diarrhoea, unavailability of safe drinking water and poor nutrition. These factors not only facilitate transmission of the polio virus but also severely compromise the efficiency of the vaccine. The polio count in UP this year stands at 97 which includes 11 virulent P1 cases. Although there are 2 National Immunization days annually in India in parts of UP the vaccine is administered monthly and the extensive campaign resulting in fatigue among health workers is of concern.
The P1 virus is the most contagious and aggressive strain of the polio. Because the live vaccine is given orally it can be administrated by anyone. Also because it is live, it will multiply in the child's gut and is excreted just like the raw polio virus itself. The vaccine once excreted can inoculate others in the family and community through faecal contamination in the substandard open sewer systems where polio strives. We were advised that due to the problems of diarrhoea the virus is not held long enough in the gut to be effective and it is planned that during the next NID in February 2009 that Rotary Zinc tablets and ORS will also be administrated to the children.
Our 80 strong ensemble was divided into 4 predetermined groups. I was in Group 3 which was referred to as the "brave ones" and the only briefing to our team was to be ready to leave Delhi at 6.30am the next morning before the traffic would build up. We were headed for Bareilly which is located nearly 250km east of Delhi and the journey by bus took 10 hours. It was an incredible journey through a very poor part of India. There were people either walking, riding camels, elephants, bikes, scooters or travelling in overcrowded lorries, ricksaws, buses, or on trailers pulled by cows or tractors on every stretch of the road. Due to chaotic traffic there were many jams and several accidents: mostly involving overladen lorries. We observed thousand of ways in which people improvise using the little resources that they have.
Many of these were very amusing which provided welcome emotional relief from the experience of seeing those living without shelter and rummaging though the rubbish which often lay on top of open sewers. The journey was incredible and one none of us shall forget.
We were greeted by Rotarians when we arrived at our hotel, the only one in Bareilly, and at this stage we began to understand why we were considered the "brave ones". After settling our bus took us to the Rotary Club of Bareilly South, which owns its own building, where we joined a meeting of Rotarians from various clubs in the town. After a very warm welcome we were split into groups of 2 or 3 and each group was allocated 2 local Rotarians who would accompany us over the next couple of days.
Early next morning the local Rotarians picked us up in their cars and took us to various villages or polio vaccination booths in the Bareilly area. Our driver had a small car and as one of the Rotarians brought his assistant, 6 of us squeezed into the car and to our amazement succeeded in closing all of the doors.
We were taken to a medical centre where lots of children and parents with babies were waiting of us. At first it was completely chaotic with everybody pushing against us but very soon the local Rotarians managed to achieve some kind of order, (which only they could understand). The medical centre is run on a voluntary basis by Rotarians from Bareilly and is open every second Sunday of the month to dispense medicines free of charge to children. There are 8 doctors in the Rotary club and we saw how a detailed medical record is kept on every child.
The local Rotarians were very keen that we administered the polio vaccine, while they kept some sort of order. As each baby was vaccinated the nail of their little finger was painted with a purple die, called "purple pinkie", so that one could tell that they had been vaccinated.
They were also each given a gift which we had brought for them. This was all carried out in the open air.
When all the babies presented were inoculated we drove to a village where the school children and a few parents with babies were waiting for us. First we inoculated the babies and then headed towards the school. The young children had decided to crowd around me pulled me along by both arms while they were chanting. They only knew how to say hello in English but it was so easy to communicate warmth though smiles. I decided, as I was dragged along, to teach them a few English words and this proved to be popular and very noisy. I didn't manage to escape form the children and on the way back to the car, as they continued to repeat the new words they learnt, I noticed that there were people standing at every doorway and all were smiling, I took this as an indication of acceptance.
Perhaps during the next NID there will be more babies presented for inoculation which would reduce the time required for the door to door mop up during the follow up days. After lunch we returned to the medical centre to inoculate more babies then our driver brought the 3 of us to meet the owner of a pharmaceutical company at his medication centre, a man of great faith, who provides the medicines, dispensed by the Rotarians at the medical centre, free of charge.
Next morning we were taken to another village, near a brick works. There we went around all the houses with health workers checking if there were any young children who had not been inoculated, this we could do by identifying if they had a "purple pinkie". Each doorway was marked with chalk to confirm if there was a young child in the house and if he or she had been inoculated. The houses we visited in the villages consisted of one room and some only had a portable bed which was brought out of doors during the day.
We met many children but did not see one toy. Before we left the village one of the health worker asked if we had a toothbrush, it was only then that I realised that they use a stick to clean their teeth. One member of our group had brought little bars of soap from a guest house near where he lives and these were gratefully received.
Our experience visiting Bareilly was very different from those Rotarians who inoculated children in Delhi and Lucknow.
After we left Bareilly we travelled approximately 220km to Agra, this was another slow journey and part of it was along a heavily trafficked dirt tract.
We reached the River Ganges after night fall where we discovered the only way across the river was to drive along the single track railway bridge which we shared with goats, cows, pedestrians and all sorts of vehicles. Our bus was very much feeling the pace and got stuck in second gear, (later it developed all sorts of other complications and at one stage we had to be rescued and continued our journey by car). In Agra we visited the tourist spots but our hearts and minds were very much in Bareilly. From Agra our bus took us another 230 km to Jaipur where the highlight of the visit was the Jaipur Limb Centre, which is worthy of a separate report. It was just another 260km back to Delhi and after a couple of stops to fix the ailing bus we managed to get to the airport for our return journey.
We met many dedicated Rotary members in Bareilly. The drive to eradicate polio is only one of the very important community projects that the Rotarians are involved in. In the basement of the building owned by the Bareilly South Club there is a fully equip Limb Centre based on the Jaipur Limb Centre we also noticed that Rotarians provide a computer lab and a sewing room for school children. The members of the clubs come from various faiths and it was heartening to see how they work together with the aim of helping their very poor community. My participation in the NID and house to house follow up was a truly remarkable experience."