Community mobilisers inch closer towards making India polio-free

By Richa Sharma, IANS
Sunday, January 30, 2011

MEERUT - Munzareen Fatima was excited when she was featured as a dedicated polio worker in Oscar-nominated documentary “The Final Inch” in 2009. The 40-year-old, who is a Unicef community mobiliser in her real life as well, awaits the day when India will be declared polio free.

Munzareen is part of an over 5,000-strong team of workers, majority of them women, in polio-endemic Uttar Pradesh who work tirelessly to ensure successful implementation of the polio eradication plan.

Directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky, “The Final Inch” is a 38-minute documentary about India’s efforts at eradicating polio. It was nominated for Best Documentary (Short Film) Feature at the 2009 Academy Awards.

The film did not win an award, but it inspired many others to strive to make India polio-free.

“The movie inspired me to take the work of polio eradication more seriously. It is necessary that we fight against polio as the disease cripples young children who are the future of the country,” Munzareen said while lifting her veil during lunch break after completion of the day’s house-to-house polio drop campaign.

She feels proud to be a community mobilisation coordinator (CMC) of Unicef-led Social Mobilization Network (SMNet) — the army of front line workers who visit house-to-house to ensure every child under five receives the oral polio vaccine.

“I faced a lot of resistance from the family when I started working as CMC a decade back. I fought all odds as I wanted to work for the humanity which, according to the Quran, is the biggest service to Allah,” she said.

Thanks to the CMCs and other efforts, the rate of infection in Uttar Pradesh has come down from 602 cases in 2009 to 10 cases last year.

“The community mobilisers are at the heart of the communication effort for polio. Without them, the eradication of polio simply will not happen. They are from the local communities and they work tirelessly to make sure every family knows the importance of vaccinating their child every round,” Lieven Desomer, Unicef’s Chief of Polio, told IANS.

It was not an easy task for CMCs to convince people to get their children immunised.

“Earlier, people used to shut the door on our faces and many a time we were abused for asking them to immunise their children. Things have improved a lot and now I get a lot of respect in the community,” said Gazala Hussain, a CMC.

There are two types of polio virus prevalent in India - P1 and P3. The transmission of the most dangerous virus P1, which caused 95 percent of polio cases in India till 2006, was at a record low level in 2010.

Uttar Pradesh, the most endemic state and the epicentre of most polio outbreaks in the country, has not reported any P1 case since November 2009.

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are two polio-endemic states in the country. Polio is a crippling disease that affects children under five.

India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are four polio-endemic countries in the world.

India has reported a drop of 94 percent in polio cases with only 42 cases being reported in 2010 as compared to 741 in 2009. Meerut district, which saw 26 cases of polio in 2009, recorded none last year.

(Richa Sharma can be contacted at

Filed under: Religion

will not be displayed