Locals, health workers brave tough terrain to deliver life saving vaccines for children
New Delhi: With a bottle of sanitiser in his pocket and a mask on his face, 60-year-old Rameshwar Prasad walks long distances, sometimes wading through rivers, to ensure children in Bihar's Gaya district, who were not vaccinated for preventable infections due to the COVID-19 lockdown, are covered under routine immunisation services.
Prasad is a vaccine courier who goes house to house, identifying children and pregnant women who missed their routine vaccines against infections and diseases like tetanus and diphtheria, and also ensures vaccines are delivered on time.
"If I don't go, it will affect so many women and children. So, I have continued to do it with all precautions like wearing a face mask, washing my hands regularly and maintaining physical distance during collection and distribution of vaccines," said Prasad, who is part of a pan-India network of around two lakh vaccine couriers.
Prasad said he cycled, walked and even waded through rivers to deliver vaccines to remote parts of Gaya district.
"When I have to go to Bentanawadhi village, I have to park my cycle in a neighbouring village. Then I have to walk two kilometres to reach there as there is no proper road. During this rainy season, I wade through rivers to ensure that vaccines reach on time," he said
In Karnataka's Lingsugur Taluk, 26-year-old Najeeta Begum, an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM), braves tough terrain to reach villages.
"The villagers ask me, 'we have been asked not to venture out, why are you travelling?'. I had to answer and convince them that I am here to vaccinate a child or meet a pregnant women," Begum
The village-level health worker said she, as per schedule, managed to cover everyone who missed their
Begum and Prasad, like the rest of the couriers, work under the alternate vaccine delivery system (AVDS), which ensures immunisation of pregnant women and children while following COVID-19 appropriate behaviour.
The system is run by the government, UNICEF along with members of local village bodies, self-help groups, youths, volunteers, among others.
The couriers also inform people about routine vaccines and ask families not to miss their vaccination schedule at sub-health centres.
The UNICEF has supported the training of 674 cold chain handlers, 36 cold chain technicians and almost 45,000 alternate vaccine delivery personnel before the re-introduction of outreach immunisation sessions from May.