National Immunisation Days

Rotary International Polio Eradication: National Immunisation Days

by Dave Andrews, Rotary Club of Kowloon Golden Mile

 

“Let me see your left pinky finger, please! This boy is safe, what about him? Are there any more children upstairs? Has your sister received her polio vaccination? Ma’am, let us give your son two tiny drops. We’re here today to eradicate polio in India!” And eradicate polio we shall!

I don’t recall why my partner, Janita and I decided at the last minute to join the National Immunisation Day trip to Delhi. Perhaps we wanted to witness Rotary ‘in action’ or maybe see “Incredible India” for the first time. Maybe we just wanted to take a break from work. I guess our motivation to participate in the NID trip was a combination of cultural curiosity and a desire to better understand the real meaning of being a Rotarian. In the end, we got both and maybe changed a few lives in the process.

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On the first day of our trip, we were exhausted. After a grand total of four hours sleep we were up at 6.00 am to embark on the first stop on the NID trip. Neither of us are ‘morning people’. This would be no vacation. Saint Stephen’s hospital, we were told, is the oldest hospital in India. By the looks of the place, this was irrefutable. While in need of a fresh coat of paint and many other upgrades, the 120+ year old hospital exuded a can-do spirit. St. Stephen’s is the only hospital in the region that conducts corrective operations for polio sufferers. People trek for days in order to receive treatment which is essentially free of charge. Officially there are eight beds devoted to this effort. Our intrepid group of 30-odd Rotarians from District 3450 was treated to an extensive presentation by St Stephen’s Head Surgeon. We were then led on a tour of the polio ward where we met young men, women and children, all crippled, in various states of recovery. They were all well-cared for and in high spirits. These kids knew they were loved. We then toured the hospital’s workshop, where custom-made casts and calipers are constructed. The entire process was simple and highly effective. For a few hundred US dollars per patient, St Stephen’s gives the crippled the ability to walk and lead normal lives. “Ah” I thought, “So this is where my Paul Harris Fellow donation goes”.

The next day was another early rise and we hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. (The myth of Rotarians being a dull bunch could not be further from reality. Our good work was punctuated by great food and a Kingfisher beer or three along the way.) In spite of our lack of rest everyone was energized. Today we would man Polio Eradication Stations that dotted Delhi city and administer polio vaccinations to children. Makeshift stations were set up in schools, clinics, temples, bus stops and just about anywhere large groups of people congregate. This logistical nightmare was overcome by the hard work of Rotary clubs in Delhi with the support of the Government of India. There we sat as families approached us and handed over their infants and toddlers to receive polio vaccinations. I am no nurse but the vaccination procedure is simple: two drops of oral vaccine and mark the left pinky finger with a permanent marker to indentify the child as properly vaccinated. Once a child receives three doses over a period of weeks he will never be afflicted by polio. The babies weren’t too happy with our effort but their parents were pleased! I was impressed that the stations were so busy. Because of intensive polio awareness efforts undertaken by Rotary, parents know the importance of the vaccination.

I suppose the highlight of highlights of the NID trip were the Home Visits. The Rotary clubs of Delhi have determined that setting up eradication stations is not enough; some children will fall through the cracks. In order to eradicate polio in more rural areas we must go door-to-door dispensing the vaccine. So that’s what we did. Our team of four consisted of a high school student and a young mother who lived nearby and knew how to get around, Janita and myself. We were dressed in identifying blue caps and vests and armed with a Styrofoam cooler filled with polio vaccines. (We looked more like we were heading to a baseball game with a cooler of beer than on a polio eradication mission).

Off we went down the dusty main road, past the garbage dump and into the village: a collection of weathered three-story apartments connected by arteries of twisting dirt paths. It hadn’t rained in days but the paths were intermittently damp. Open sewers, watch your step! There were stray dogs, chickens, cows and garbage strewn everywhere. Nobody seemed to mind. “If I were a polio virus” I thought, “this is exactly where I’d hang out”. We had our work cut out for us. We set about hunting for children under five years old to vaccinate. This involved our team going door to door, interrupting lunches, hair washing, afternoon naps seeking eligible children. The villagers were incredibly welcoming and cooperative. As we entered each apartment courtyard and announced our mission, we were guided to families with young children. Our team charged up dark, narrow staircases, through hallways, on to rooftops, knocking on heavy iron doors in search of children; children missing the dark purple ink stain indicating that they’d been vaccinated against a ravaging, crippling disease. We were on a mission.

There was a single-room flat that contained nine unvaccinated children. A goldmine! All in all we inoculated over 80 kids that morning and would have done more had we not exhausted our supply of polio vaccines. Not to worry, there was a second wave of polio eradicators coming behind us. You see, Rotarians from around the world had converged on Delhi for this effort.

 

Polio doesn’t stand a chance against Rotary!

I am proud to be a Rotarian.

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