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Sun bother before polio drive

Calcutta, May 18: The health department is feeling the heat in the lead up to a polio immunisation programme, literally.

With the mercury soaring, health officials fear they will have a tough time conducting the Sub-national Immunisation Programme. This is the first time that the drive will stretch across Bengal during this part of the year. Last June, a mop-up programme on polio was held in Murshidabad, Birbhum and Malda but was limited to a few booths as it was “area-specific”.

Union health minister Sushma Swaraj will be in the city to flag off the programme on June 1. The drive is also being carried out in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and parts of Haryana, Maharashtra and Delhi where fresh polio cases have been detected despite the national immunisation programme.

With a vast project at hand, the government has asked for vaccine-carriers from the Centre. “The heat makes it difficult to maintain the ‘cold chain’ (keeping the vaccine in the cold from manufacture till it reaches the user); we have asked for two vaccine-carriers for each of the 36,554 booths in the state,” said J. Chaki, the assistant director of health services.

Unicef has provided 17,000 vaccine-carriers and the government hopes to get the remaining requirement from the Centre by next week. The state does not have too many vaccine-carriers as anti-polio programmes have never before been held mid-summer.

It will be a tough job for the 1,46,216 health workers who will administer the doses. After the first day, they will have to go door to door from seven in the morning. “Considering that the heat might be a deterrent, we decided to start the programme from seven,” said Chaki, the programme supervisor in the state.

The incentive for the health workers, some of them government employees and others from local NGOs, to beat the heat and go door to door is Rs 25 per day.

“They are reluctant to go out in the heat, which is why we have asked the Centre to increase the allowance to Rs 30 in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation area,” an official in the civic body said and admitted that even that was not enough. “But as this is a national programme, and the ideal time for vaccinating,” he added.

A meeting at Writers’ Buildings on Friday decided that the turnout in the booths has to be increased from 70 per cent in the Sub-national Immunisation Programme in April to 90 per cent. “Higher coverage reflects greater awareness among people and it will bode well for the health workers who will have to venture less into the heat,” said an official.

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