Tracking immunisation drive in Covid-19 times

Despite the government’s initiatives like Mission Indradhanush, India’s immunisation rate remains one of the lowest in the world.

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 alone. However, India also holds the record of having the highest numbers of unvaccinated children in the world, despite being one of the largest producers and exporters of vaccines.

A recently published report by the National Statistical Office (NSO) reveals that on an average only 60% of children aged between 0 to 5 years are fully immunised. 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. This is why the Government of India has joined hands with Rotary International, an international service organisation providing humanitarian services across the globe, along with the WHO, UNICEF and other prominent institutions, to help meet their objective of cent per cent immunisation.

India also holds the record of having the highest numbers of unvaccinated children in the world, despite being one of the largest producers and exporters of vaccines.

 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 has been innovatively spreading awareness on immunization in its rainbow-coloured Mission Indradhanush Message Car, carrying the signature slogan, “5 saal, 7 baar, chhoote na teeka ek bhi baar”.

In 1985, the Government of India launched a Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) for providing lifesaving vaccines to all children across the country free of cost, against seven vaccine-preventable diseases: measles, polio, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. Despite being amongst the largest public healthcare programmes 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% children in the prime years of their lives. 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 immunisation with special attention to districts with low immunization coverage. During the first six phases of Mission Indradhanush, 680 districts were covered and more than 3.89 crore 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 and 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 2.0 was launched from December 2019 to March 2020 with a target to achieve full immunisation coverage in 272 districts spread over 27 states. During this period, 37.09 lakh children and 7.41 lakh pregnant women were vaccinated.

Despite the 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 the government’s Mission Indradhanush by creating awareness, organizing medical camps, monitoring routine immunizations, motivating health workers, aiding in transportation of vaccines requiring cold storage, etc.

Rotary Club of Delhi (RCD) Regency Next has taken the primary initiative to spread awareness on immunisation through its dazzling Mission Indradhanush Message Car. It has been designed taking in consideration several factors such as the visual appeal, high illiteracy ratio, change in language every few kilometres, etc. The car easily draws attention by its attractive visuals and rainbow colours signifying Mission Indradhanush. Post its flag off on 24th October 2019 i.e. “World Polio Day” from the Rotary International South Asia Office in Aerocity, New Delhi, the Message 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.

Ashcharya Khanna, President of RCD Regency Next 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 of immunisation 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 popularise the message of full immunisation. 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 lifesaving techniques.