In the global fight against infectious disease, victories of any size deserve to be celebrated. Any increase in vaccination percentages and decrease in recorded cases is one step closer to eradication. PCI has made strong headway in the fight against many of these diseases, but one particular PCI disease prevention program that has seen almost unparalleled growth and success is the polio intervention program in Moradabad, India.
In many rural communities in India, there is a persistent belief that vaccinations against diseases like polio are not only ineffective but are actually secret efforts by foreign governments and institutions to minimize Muslim populations and influence. This entirely false belief in a eugenics-based conspiracy has prevented organizations in the past from achieving the vaccination levels necessary to completely eradicate the diseases wreaking havoc on community populations.
PCI has changed these outlooks from the bottom up using a unique child education and mobilization approach to increase community involvement and awareness of polio and vaccines. Working with partner organization CORE, PCI staffers created special educational programs for local school children focused on polio and its potential eradication. The lessons are designed to involve students directly in the health and well-being of their community, friends and family and to teach them how they can play a role in the eradication of polio in their own communities. With support from PCI, the children organized into calling groups called bulawa tolies who roam the streets announcing the dates of vaccination drives, holding anti-disease rallies and teaching the adult members of their families and community about the roles they can play in preventing disease.
This ground-up, community based approach to disease education and prevention is not only groundbreaking, it is effective. The same citizens who were reluctant to trust health workers – who they believed wanted to harm them – were far more willing to listen to members of their own communities, especially their children. As the approach proved effective, the program was expanded to include all elementary and middle school students in Moradabad and neighboring Muzaffarnagar and Meerut. Between December 2007 and September 2012, over 630 bulawa tolies, involving over 5000 children, participated in 29,683 rallies in 44 rounds of polio vaccinations. These public displays and events led to an increase in vaccination coverage in the targeted areas from 67% in 2007 to 76% in 2012.
What is most significant of all is that Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Moradabad have not reported any new polio cases since January 2010 and Moradabad, once the epicenter of India’s polio epidemic, has been virus free since November 2009.
Involving members of at-risk communities in efforts to prevent the spread of infectious diseases is crucial to building a strong foundation of knowledge and tradition to ensure that programs like PCI’s Moradabad intervention continue to increase vaccine coverage and decrease the presence of diseases like polio in the international communities most in need. The success in Moradabad is a great victory, but it is only one step of many towards global polio eradication.