Two members of the Rotary Club of Bairnsdale, Gillian Reeve and Ula Sheather, recently returned from a trip to Moradabad, India to participate, as volunteers,  at one of the National Immunisation Days organised by Rotary in partnership with UNICEF, The World Health Organisation plus the various health organisations in Moradabad.
This was the third visit for Gillian and second for Ula, who this year were part of a team of 13, which was organised at the Australian end, by Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Sandringham in Melbourne, who have made the trip six times.
On the day prior there is a big rally through the streets, involving Rotarians, both Australian and local, plus school children, teachers and health workers, to raise awareness for the following day. In true Indian fashion it is loud and colourful, music blaring children chanting “Go Go Polio” for the entire length of the march. To be part of this was fantastic and walking the four kilometres through the busy streets, looking at all the stall holders and locals are something not to be missed.
Booths are set up all over the city of Moradabad on the nominated day, Sunday 28 January, we were involved in the ones organised by the Rotary Clubs of Moradabad. On this day, Rotarians work alongside local Rotarians and health workers to immunise as many children, under  five as possible. It can look a bit chaotic but at the booth in a three hour shift over 200 children received the two drops of the oral vaccine that is used. Gillian and Ula brought over many small stuffed toys, some donated by individuals, with others sourced from the Bairnsdale Opp shops, at little or no cost. A big thank you goes out to all those people who helped, as the soft toys are certainly a draw card, bringing in the children and families.
Helpers at the booths stand in the road and halt bicycles, tuk tuks, scooter, motor bikes and cars to see if there are any children under five who have not been immunised. After administering the two drops the left little finger nail is marked with a purple pen, which if done correctly will last over a week. Although you cannot overdose on this vaccine, to waste it would not be ideal.
The following two days the ladies were part of what is called “Mop up Teams”, who go through the slum villages and knock on every door to ensure that no child under five has not been immunised. Doors are marked in chalk with the code indicating, inspection and status of the children inside. These local villagers are so welcoming and do not hesitate to let you in to their humble dwellings and allow the health workers to search for children. Refreshments were offered and gratefully accepted by everyone and although living in conditions that we would call less than ideal, they are happy and so pleased to know that people from overseas care enough to make the journey to help.
This blanket approach to the immunisation program has ensured that the last case of Polio reported in India, was in West Bengal and Gujarat in January 2011. On 27 March 2014 India was declared Polio free. Moradabad was considered the “hot bed” of this disease with 350,000 cases reported in one year in that city. On the 28 January 2018, in Moradabad,  326,000 children were immunised in the one day, with the remaining 200,000 being caught in the five days of “mop up” following. It is mind  boggling when you realise that India immunises over 170 million children every year. The Indian government have scaled back their participation and funding of the program, but it is the hope of the people of Moradabad that Rotary will keep up their support, which has been going now for 33 years, around the world.
As always these trips reinforce the good work of Rotary not just in India but in other areas  around  the globe. Ula and Gillian had a wonderful time and were glad, once again, to be part of this worthwhile program. Every year 1.2 million Rotarians around the world continue to contribute funds to the Polio Plus cause, which ensures free vaccine for the children of the world. We must all be aware that Polio is only a plane ride away from Australia, so it is important to be vigilant.