Monday, December 29, 2008

Those who take the polio campaign forward

Amitabh Bachchan may be the face of the polio campaign, but it is the toil of thousands of common men and women that takes the fight forward. They have a gargantuan task before them: to eradicate polio from the India and for this, they keep no stone unturned.

Most of these health workers are engaged in fulltime activities, but whenever the polio campaign is announced, they take time off to volunteer. They are paid only Rs 50 per day for a shift from 9 am to 4 pm but this paltry sum does not affect their dedication.

Tapati Saha (56), the deputy chief municipal health officer, said of the 6,803 health workers involved in the polio programme, more than 4,000 are volunteers. They get Rs 225 for five days on an honorarium basis.

Sumana Nag (24) teaches swimming at the Southern Avenue Swimming club from 6 am to 9 am, but asks her employees to adjust for the five days of a polio programme. “I feel I am doing a noble deed by giving my time. I first volunteered when my cousin Ankita Dey (18) could not attend due to her exams,” she said from ward number 82 booth at the Gariahat mod. Ankita still volunteers at the Lake Girl’s High School booth in spite of her oncoming HS exams.

Arati Das (42) comes all the way from Kasba to Gariahat to volunteer. A housewife, she considers being a part of the polio campaign as ‘a small contribution to society’. In fact, Arati’s sister-in-law Shelly Das (37) also volunteers at the Chittaranjan High School booth in Kasba. “Ours is a big joint family, so whenever we volunteer, someone always manages the cooking and housework,” Arati said.

Rajiv Bhattacharya (36) is an electrician but volunteers for the house to house polio campaign in Tangra, ward no 59. “A team of two covers about 126 homes in a day. If a child is sleeping or is away, we go back again after sometime. When some parents appear reluctant, we try to convince them our vaccine and training is just as good. Volunteers are given an intensive training each time before the campaign,” he said.

Sandhya Bhattacharya (54) is one of the six supervisors of the Intensive Pulse Polio Immunization (IPPI) plan of ward no 59. After being associated with health work for the last 22 years, all she gets today is about Rs 2000 per month. “The pay is extremely less. We have been hearing it may increase since long. I am happy though, as I started off only with Rs. 200 per month,” she said.

“We feel that the compensation for these volunteers is very less in comparison to their efforts and the importance of the work. However, this pay scale has been fixed by the Centre so it is up to it to increase. It would definitely give a boost to health work if the pay is increased,” said Tapati.



This article got bunked for it was felt that people volunteering for such a measly sum is not a big deal. For people are in need of money anyways and will take up any job that gives assured money. Besides, the success of the polio campaign has come under scanner recently for various reasons-- like the type of vaccine used, the technical expertise of the volunteers. Both points agreed to.

But with an emotional attachment to the legwork and information that I gathered, I find no reason to not put it here. For something is being done, and something need be thus written to acknowledge it.

From what I gathered from talks with volunteers and the deputy chief municipal officer, is that all the volunteers are given training sessions before each campaign and provided with insulated ice-boxes so that the vaccine remains safe. Whatever may be the doubts or cynicism, here's a government motivated movement that is regularly carried out on a massive scale. As I said in the article before, at least 4,000 people work for as less as 225/- for five days to keep campaign going. The least that the Centre can do is to fix decent scales so that more people, who want money and are prepared to slog for it, get a worthy platform to do their bit.

-Gauri Gharpure