Richard and Hazel, from the Rotary Club of Abingdon Vesper, joined a group of 104 who went to India to assist with the February 2016 Polio National Immunisation Day. The group worked with local Rotarians in 5 different areas in Northern India, all of the locations are considered to be of high risk in the battle to eradicate Polio.
Richard and Hazel were part of a group of 13 who went to Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), where we worked with the Rotary Club of Central Calcutta.
On the Sunday we were taken to a NID booth in a local community centre in a very poor area of Kolkata called Belgachia (see picture). An area with open sewers, and water available only from pumps in the street.
Kolkata is a place where numbers of children attending the NID booths has been reducing in the last couple of years, giving a higher risk of the recurrence of Polio.
Our bright yellow polo shirts, white faces and small gifts of pencils and balloons soon brought out the children, and we found ourselves among many parents, children under 5 having the drops, and their older siblings. The under 5's were brought along by their parents, and in many cases by their older siblings. The local health workers were amazed by the numbers in a usually low turnout location. This made it well worth the effort of getting there.
Vaccination consists of 2 drops of vaccine, and marking the left hand little finger nail with indelible purple ink – the purple pinkie!
On the Monday the local Rotarians took us to meet local World Health Organisation representatives who took us out on the House to House mop up day. One of the days where a great effort is made to vaccinate those children who didn’t attend the booths.
We started at a local maternity hospital, which was the centre of the cold chain, i.e. the place where the vaccines are kept clod priot to distribution to the booths and the health workers. Four of us then went with the WHO representatives, who monitor the whole process, to the local brickyards on the banks of the Hooghly, a tributary of the Ganges (see picture below).
Brickyard workers are traditionally very poor itinerant, uneducated workers who are often a long way from the booths and are unable to afford either time not working or to get to a booth. It is necessary to take the vaccine to them as part of the mop up process. They really do live in very poor conditions; it was good to see the efforts being made to get the vaccine to every child under 5.
The future emphasis is seen as being necessary in lots of area's to take vaccines to the children rather than the reliance on them attending booths. This will also start to pick up in the next target eradications of measles and rubella.
During the 3 days we were with the Rotarians we also saw and heard about other projects that they were involved in. These included a primary school of about 200 pupils that they fully funded, some classes of pupils with learning difficulties supported by the RC Belur, and a tram “outing” for underprivileged local children.
The RC of Belur work with the RC of Guildford on their eye project, and have obtained significant global grants. Belur have also supported Guildford in a UK Multiple Sclerosis project, again getting global grant support. A real example of Rotary clubs working together.
Only 5 cases of wild polio virus have been reported to the end of February in 2016, all are in Pakistan.
After over 5 years of being Polio free India still faces many challenges to maintain that status
There are vaccination points along the borders with Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar, all polio high risk countries. All adults and Children crossing the borders are given oral polio vaccine.
Switchover from Oral Polio Vaccine to Inactivated Polio Vaccine (injected) expected in 2018/19
In April 2016 the WHO have decided that the world will move to using oral Bivalent Vaccine rather than Trivalent Vaccine as wild polio virus type 2 has been eliminated, another major milestone.
On 5 May 2014, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the international spread of wild poliovirus (WPV) a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). This means that all cases must be reported, investigated, and action taken to halt the potential progress.