In Jharkhand's East Singhbhum district, Ganga Das, 19 and pregnant for the first time, was determined enough to get her immunisation done at a Public Heath Centre (PHC) at Juri village.
Married at the age of 17, Ganga's determination was a result of an equally determined effort by Unicef and the "mobilisers" sent out by the state Health Department to spread awareness about routine immunisation (RI) and how it helps protect unborn children, creating their first wall of defence against diseases.
Jovial and optimistic, Ganga said that seeing other pregnant women come to the centre also encouraged her to do so. "The RI programme is a boon for us. I have seen it here. I ask other pregnant women in the village to go for immunisation," said Ganga, who is also pursuing her class 12 studies.
The enthusiasm is a result of the continuous awareness drives by Unicef and Jharkhand's Health Department, especially its team of dedicated "mobilisers" who travel to far-flung villages to encourage communities to immunise pregnant women and children.
Namita Pal, 25, who came with her one-and-a-half-year-old son for vaccination, said she also has a six-year-old who has been protected from diseases thanks to regular vaccination.
"After the birth of my first son, I took him to the centre for immunisation. Mobilisers make us understand the benefits of immunisation and, ultimately, our own benefit. It protected my elder son; so I bring my younger kid here too. To keep kids immune from diseases they have to get vaccines regularly," Namita told IANS.
Auxiliary Nurses and Midwives (ANMs) and Anganwadi workers mobilise villagers to bring children or pregnant women to the immunisation camps. Regular immunisation is one of the key interventions for protecting children from avoidable sickness, disability and life-threatening conditions that are preventable.
Rajini Kumari, an ANM of Potka block, said she, along with Anganwadi workers, mobilises villagers, telling them about the benefits of immunisation, about hygiene, the diet kids should have, and ask them to drink boiled water.
"We maintain records of pregnant women and children about their immunisation. RI happens on Thursday and Saturday of every week," she told IANS, while vaccinating children in a room painted with informative pictorials on the benefits of immunisation and the Do's and Don'ts during and after pregnancy.
A regular immunisation cycle sees a child receiving BCG (primarily against tuberculosis) and polio vaccine at the time of birth. This is followed by pentavalent vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and haemophilus influenza when the newborn is 1.5, 2.5 and 3.5 months old, respectively, along with doses of the polio vaccine, said Sahil Paul, Medical Officer of Potka block.
"We moniter the entire immunisation process. We help people to understand about government facilities and urge them to become a part of it to save their children," Paul told IANS.
East Singhbhum Civil Surgeon S.K. Jha said: "We try for maximum immunisation coverage in the area. If there is proper infrastructure like hospitals, doctors, roads and electricity, health care will not be a problem in the country."
District Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) officer Maheshwar Prasad, who is responsible for the complete immunisation process, said it can be improved by making people aware at the grassroot level.
"Village heads must play a pro-active role to make people aware about benefits of vaccines. The community should be involved. Still, there is some gap and so we all have to work together for the cause," Maheshwar Prasad told IANS.
(Garima Tyagi was part of a field visit that Unicef organised for the media to East Singhbhum district. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)