12.1 billion doses of the polio vaccine have been given in India since the Pulse Polio Initiative began in 1995. Back then, the disease was crippling people, especially children, throughout the region. Even in 2006, India still accounted for half of the world’s polio cases. The literal foot soldiers in this war against polio are women who walk for miles to vaccinate children.
From the BBC:
“Sita Devi is one of India’s “polio aunties”. The 57-year-old often walks miles in the searing heat to find children in remote villages and communities who need vaccinating.
She is one of the hundreds of thousands of women working in Aanganwadis – health care centers – in India which provide free basic services to those who cannot afford to pay.”
These women are tireless and each brings her own story, passion and commitment to the work. For Sita Devi, it was a nephew who couldn’t be treated. “I immediately signed up because I had seen how this disease destroys life,” she said.
Her work, and that of women like her, is paying off as India can now claim three years without a new case of polio. India was officially declared polio-free by the World Health Organization (WHO). The good news brings a new round of problems for the polio aunties: some families don’t see the need to vaccinate when the country is polio-free. Workers gather to get their talking points in line and prepare to go back out to their regions to motivate and explain to families the essential need for vigilance against polio’s return.
“These women often cover more than 500 houses a day and they walk for miles. It’s not money that drives them. These women work tirelessly because they feel committed to the cause,” Mr. Singh, a regional health officer explains.
Workers earn less than a $1.50 on every visit to a field area, in addition to a monthly salary of just 4,000 rupees ($60). The women become confidants to the families they help, sharing stories, chocolates for the children and ultimately the precious drops that will keep their bodies healthy and strong. They are committed. Few are planning to give up the fight any time soon.
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Read the BBC’s full coverage of Sita Devi and her fellow Polio Aunties here. Consider checking out our partners like UNICEF and Shot@Life who are working hard to get vaccines to those who need them most.
Photo credit: BBC / Ankit Srinvas (from the original article)