My elder daughter Shreya, a firstyear medical student, was proud to get her first duty in a polio booth on January 15, 2012. I reckoned that life had come a full circle.
In 1995-96, when the Pulse Polio immunisation campaign was launched, a chief development officer (CDO) was attending a monthly meeting of the district-level officers in Kanpur. The chief medical officer started discussing the logistics of the campaign’s first round when the head of the municipal corporation asked what it was all about. The CDO was perplexed, as people were not aware of the campaign even though the campaign was beginning in just three days. She sensed that it was time for her to take the lead. She realised that an intensive awareness generation exercise was required. So the team visited slums and organised meetings and road shows.
After spreading awareness, it was time to win people’s confidence. So the CDO visited GSV Medical college and requested professors to allow the students of medicine to manage polio booths. The professors were unsure about the students’ response. So she motivated them and made them realise the importance of their participation in the process. On D-day, she reached the campus at 5.30 am with eight buses. To her surprise, queues of student volunteers were waiting for her. One student was dropped off at each booth in the city. As expected, the response was overwhelming. The CDO was proud of her team’s sincerity and success.
Came 2001 and the district magistrate (DM) of Rampur was on tenterhooks. The campaign had failed, as the only strain of virus detected was the Moradabad strain. But the DM didn’t lose heart. Rampur was a backward area with a low literacy rate. People were hiding their children from the polio vaccination teams. But the more pressing issue was of tackling the rumour that the vaccine led to sterilisation. So she gave a small radio talk, explaining to people how other countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia had eliminated polio using the same vaccines that her team was using. The local media cooperated with her and the talk was broadcast every half hour. This helped her make the drive a success.
Today, a small idea that sprouted in the 90s has become a norm. Medical students are being put on duty in polio booths on a regular basis. Shreya is a part of the campaign and I am grateful to the system for this. In fact, my whole family is involved in the Pulse Polio campaign. My younger daughter Prerna persuades her father to help her design pamphlets to spread awareness on polio. I am proud of them.
I am also proud of each and every person who has made the Pulse Polio campaign a huge success. But the struggle is far from over. Though the World Health Organisation has taken India off from its list of polio-endemic countries, we have to sustain the momentum for at least two more years to be declared a polio-free nation. We must share our experience with endemic countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan to help them eliminate the polio virus. To win the war against polio, we must fight the virus in each and every nation.
(Monika S Garg is an IAS officer. She was chief development officer of Kanpur during 1995-97 and district magistrate of Rampur in 2001-02)
The views expressed by the author are personal