The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bihar class war makes way for pulse polio

Patna, Jan. 6: Naxalites have lifted the iron curtain that keeps away “outsiders” from central and north Bihar for one group: health workers campaigning for pulse polio vaccination.

The area commanders of both the PWG and the MCC, who have been waging a class war in the region, had grilled the health workers and watched their movement for a week before granting them permission to work in the area.

“It is needless to mention that any campaign in the villages would not have taken place without the help and cooperation of the militant groups,” said Vijay Moses, the Unicef’s health and nutrition project officer in Bihar and Jharkhand. Bihar health minister Akhilesh Singh, too, conceded that the state government was facing some challenges from the extremists on the pulse polio campaign.

“We wanted their cooperation. But because of bureaucratic resistance on legal grounds, we failed to go ahead earlier. Now this has been done and we have achieved concrete results,” Singh said.

The minister, who hails from the strife-torn Jehanabad, said “in a troubled district like that the results were encouraging”.

The Naxalites have let in at least 12 groups of campaigners, mostly drawn from NGOs working for the Unicef-World Health project. These groups are spearheading the campaign for anti-polio vaccination in six of the Naxalite-affected districts.

“The health workers have been working door to door in the villages, taking vaccination doses to the families,” said Brajesh Mehrotra, district magistrate of Gaya, another extremist-affected district. “The commanders came individually after making enquiries,” said Afzal Ammanulla, secretary to health education and family welfare in Bihar.

Health workers of WHO said the Naxalite groups not only gave “us permission to work but they also joined some of the campaigns and persuaded people to get their children immunised”. Polio eradication programmes have found Bihar, along with Uttar Pradesh, one of the most difficult states to crack.

In Bihar alone, 97 fresh polio cases were reported last year. Out of the 25 districts on the polio map in Bihar, most fall in the Naxalite-affected areas. Champaran, Rohtas, Bhojpur and Gaya reported the maximum number of polio patients.

The ice was broken in October last year when Naxalites allowed health workers to launch campaign titled ‘Subnational Immunisation Day’ in Gaya. The doors were finally thrown wide open yesterday when the pulse polio programme was allowed to enter the heart of Bhojpur, Rohtas and Champaran.

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