On 20th January, 32 volunteers from Rotary clubs in Great Britain were in India to administer polio vaccinations to local children as part of National Immunisation Day (NID).
On arrival in the bustling port city of Cochin, Kerala, the Rotarians were immediately struck by the sheer scale and efficiency of the operation. Over seven million booths for carrying out vaccinations, a million vaccination teams, two million vaccine carriers and more than six million ice packs – all that is required to administer two drops of polio vaccine to 172 million children under the age of five. This is followed up by several days of visits by health workers to around 209 million homes to ‘mop up’ any child without a ‘purple pinkie’ – the pink dye which is applied to the little finger to indicate a child has been vaccinated.
India’s Rotarians are an integral part of NID, having been participating in the event for many years. District Governor, Rajkumar said: “This is a most exciting time for us, as we are now very close to eradicating polio in India.”
Rotarian James Kalassery, Programme Co-ordinator for NID said: “We have been committed to the End Polio Now campaign for many years. There is not a single Rotarian who is not personally involved in a polio related activity. Whether it is donating money or time, every effort is made to help the campaign. Our members are busy, working people, but they willingly make time for Rotary, especially for polio campaigns.”
During their stay in Cochin, the UK Rotarians met some wonderful people.
Ashok, in his mid- twenties, quietly stood at the back of the queue carrying his one year old daughter Fatima. He said: “This is my only daughter. I do not know who provides the polio vaccination, but I know that this will protect her from polio, so I thank whoever it is giving all this free to our children.”
In Madrassa, the vaccination booth was in a tumble down brick building. Rotarians from the Cochin Globe Club brought bright yellow polio banners and posters to publicise the event and the other Rotary volunteers brought a cool box of vaccine, charts, marker pens and a pile of balloons and masks.
Organisers, Yasmin and Shamin used two plastic chairs and a rickety desk to set up their stall. They started at 7.30am and finished at 5.00pm, being paid around 60 pence for their efforts. Yasmin said: “It is not the money that motivates us, we’ve been doing this for years and would not miss it for anything. We want every child to be protected. Unfortunately this is an area where the uptake is not very good, but we can and will overcome this problem for our children’s sake.”
UK Rotarian, John Philip said: “I stood mesmerised, watching dozens of trusting, smiling, children receiving two drops of this life saving vaccine. The enthusiasm and selfless commitment of the staff and volunteers was self-evident. When I walked around with my Cochin Rotary friends delivering lunch packets of rice and vegetable curry to the workers, I felt proud to be a Rotarian.”