Tracking India’s Immunisation Strategy, while we await the Covid Vaccine

26 August, 2020 | Uday Pratap Singh

Van Health & Environment

India, the largest democratic nation in the world, holds the distinction for being the most densely populated country globally and recorded nearly 67,000 births in 2020 on New Year’s Day. Despite b...

India, the largest democratic nation in the world, holds the distinction for being the most densely populated country globally and recorded nearly 67,000 births in 2020 on New Year’s Day. Despite being one of the largest producers and exporter of vaccines, India holds the record of having the highest numbers of unvaccinated children in the world.

A recently published report by the Indian National Statistical Office (NSO) reveals that on an average only 60 per cent of children aged between 0-5 years are fully immunized. Senior officials working in the public healthcare sector have confessed that even these figures appear to be inflated and the ground situation is much worse owing to a high drop-out ratio, which is why the Government of India has joined hands with Rotary International, an international service organization providing humanitarian services across the globe, along with WHO, UNICEF and other prominent institutions to help meet their objective of cent per cent immunization.

Rotary Club of Delhi (RCD) Regency Next, a young club formed in November 2017, is one of the leading Clubs in India which is at the forefront of the mass awareness campaign for ‘Mission Indradhanush’, a national immunization drive launched by the Government of India in December 2014. Mission Indradhanush portrayed by the seven colours of the rainbow to depict seven vaccine-preventable diseases, now provides protection against 12 vaccine-preventable diseases. RCD Regency Next Club has been innovatively spreading awareness on immunization in its rainbow-coloured Mission Indradhanush Message Car carrying the signature slogan “5 Saal 7 Baar, Choote na teeka ek bhibaar”.

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In 1985, the Government of India launched a Universal Immunization Programme (UIP), for providing life-saving vaccines to all children across the country free of cost against seven vaccine-preventable diseases; measles, polio, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, diphtheria, whooping cough, &tetanus. Despite being amongst the largest public healthcare programs in the world and being in operation for numerous years, the UIP initiative met with limited success and has been able to fully immunize only 65 per cent children in the prime years of their life. At present, the UIP consists of vaccinations against twelve diseases including rotavirus diarrhoea, Japanese encephalitis, rubella, pneumonia and meningitis.

In December 2014, Mission Indradhanush (MI) was launched to strengthen, rejuvenate and accelerate immunization under the UIP. This mission systematically targeted all children and pregnant women who had been left out or missed out for immunization with special attention to districts with low immunization coverage. During the first six phases of Mission Indradhanush, 680 districts were covered and more than 3.89crore children and 87.18 lakh pregnant women were immunized with life-saving vaccines.

In October 2017, the Intensified Mission Indradhanush (IMI)was launched with improved strategies to reach populations at high risk with an aim to reach each and every child up to two years of age and all pregnant women who had been left uncovered under the UIP.

After five successful years of MI and IMI, Intensified Mission Indradhanush (IMI) 2.0 was launched from December 2019 to March 2020 with a target to achieve full immunization coverage in 272 districts spread over 27 States. During this period, 37.09 lakh children and 7.41 lakh pregnant women were vaccinated.

Despite Government’s initiatives like Mission Indradhanush, India’s immunisation rate remains one of the lowest in the world. Since 1995, Rotary International has worked with the Indian Government to organize National Immunisation Days each year. After having been instrumental in the eradication of Polio from India, Rotary is utilizing its existing Polio network, infrastructure and expertise to fill urgent immunity gaps and strengthen the immunization healthcare system for improved vaccine delivery implementation. Rotary India has been playing a critical role in Government’s Mission Indradhanush by creating awareness, organizing medical camps, monitoring routine immunizations, motivating health workers, aiding in the transportation of vaccines requiring cold storage, etc.

Rotary Club of Delhi (RCD) Regency Next has taken the primary initiative to spread awareness on immunization through its dazzling Mission Indradhanush Message Car. It has been designed taking into consideration several factors such as the visual appeal, high illiteracy ratio, change in language every few km, etc. The Car easily draws attention by its attractive visuals and rainbow colours signifying Mission Indradhanush. Post its flag off on 24th October 2019 on “World Polio Day” from Rotary International South Asia Office, Aerocity, New Delhi, the Car has already travelled to Indore, Agra, Lucknow, Prayagraj and Kolkata where it was displayed at Rotary’s India Centennial Summit 2020. After careful deliberation, the Club has identified few high priority districts in North India from the Government list which it intends to penetrate this year to spread awareness on immunization.

Mr Ashcharya Khanna, President of the Club, said “Given the current scenario with respect to the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic, our Club has tied up with local political leaders, having a mass connect, to take our Message Car across various underprivileged areas in order to spread awareness on immunization and distribute Club-provided flyers and face masks.

Along with this, we are using the same infrastructure for Leprosy Awareness as well as for awareness and prevention of COVID-19.”

The Club is also focussing on the use of digital media to popularize the message of full immunization. Mr Rahul Jain, Regency Next’s ‘Mission Indradhanush’ Project Chair said “So far we have made good headway at the start of the new Rotary year 2020-21. We have collaborated with radio stations, celebrities and influencers to spread the message. Prominent political leaders have extended their support to the Club and the Project. The Project has also been covered by several media houses and social media platforms. Our efforts in spreading awareness are making a tremendous impact. The Message Car has been attracting a lot of attention by people in slum areas who have expressed that they would get their children vaccinated. We are extremely overwhelmed with the response received.”

He added, “As the said diseases can lead to stunting in children, that can cause poor growth, poor adult health and weakened learning ability, we believe that quality healthcare for the younger generation will ultimately determine India’s economic productivity. Prevention is always better than cure and most of these diseases cost a fortune to be treated or managed. As Dr Nadeera Nilupamali has rightly said, morbidity, mortality, and the economic implications for these vaccine-preventable diseases are undoubtedly going to entail a huge cost on the Indian economy. Routine childhood vaccinations are thus amongst the most critical and cost-friendly life-saving techniques.

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