Arunachal achieves vaccination feat

Health workers cross a hanging bridge to reach a remote area in Arunachal Pradesh during the vaccination drive. Picture courtesy Unicef field office, Assam

Guwahati: Arunachal Pradesh has recently achieved the global target of 100 per cent vaccination against measles and rubella, a mission that involved use of helicopters, an eight to nine-hour walk by health workers for three children and a campaign by religious leaders.

Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Telangana and Himachal Pradesh are the only four other states to have achieved the mission but Arunachal's achievement has received a pat given its remoteness and disaster-prone climate. States like Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur have not yet launched the drive.

All 4.5 lakh children, aged between nine months and 15 years, considered prone to measles and rubella-related diseases, have been provided the single-shot vaccine during the special vaccination mission between February 1 and March 1.

"It was definitely a tough mission but everybody, from the chief minister to chief secretary, political leaders, religious heads, nearly 10,000 government officials such as teachers, ASHA and Anganwadi workers and Unicef, and WHO personnel pitched in to accomplish what otherwise looks impossible. Today it gives us immense happiness as we have been able to protect our children from measles and rubella," the mission director of the National Health Mission, Arunachal Pradesh, Tapasya Raghav told The Telegraph over phone, adding that planning for this started in November last year.

The state has reported 1,224 cases of measles since 2014 with the number going up from 44 in 2015 to 505 in 2016, 543 in 2017 and 32 this year, so far. Measles can cause cornea-scarring blindness, encephalitis, pneumonia and diarrhoea while the congenital rubella syndrome during pregnancy can result in spontaneous abortion, stillbirth and serious birth defects.

The measles-rubella vaccination launched worldwide aims to cover approximately 41 crore children worldwide and eliminate measles and control rubella/congenital rubella syndrome by 2020.

"We had to use choppers to get the vaccines to at least 80-90 villages which were identified as "very hard to reach areas" like Vijaynagar and Daporijo. There was an instance where one team of health workers remained out of reach for seven to eight days but they met their target of vaccination. The Unicef and WHO personnel helped us in the planning, training and communication exercises. We had to take the religious leaders on board to remove the wrong notion present among parents in many remote areas that the vaccines are not safe. We had an orientation for school teachers who taught children that the vaccines are necessary and safe," she said.

Doctor Ravichandran, health specialist, Unicef, Assam field office said the random community monitoring of the exercise helped Arunachal Pradesh to accomplish the target.


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