Polio Prevention by Empowering Communities
“Community Mobilization Coordinators are the real foot soldiers of the [CORE Group Polio Project]. … They work tirelessly for the community that they belong to and care for.”
– Dr. Sudipta Mondal, CORE Group Polio Project Lead
Polio viruses are crippling and potentially deadly, invading the brain and spinal cord to cause permanent paralysis. India was once considered the epicenter of polio and nearly half of the world’s polio cases came from there just a few years ago. The impact on the country was devastating, making polio prevention a priority.
There is no cure for the disease, but a polio vaccine can prevent it. Unfortunately, in many areas of India, there was a pervasive cultural resistance to vaccines and to outside intervention. PCI worked to change that by:
– Recruiting and training local leaders and children to get the word out about prevention of polio;
– Building the capacity of government frontline healthcare workers to work with the community to ensure universal polio vaccination; and
– Empowering communities with sanitation knowledge to aid the long-term prevention of polio disease.
Celebrating a Polio-Free India
A gate stands in Sambhalheda and every traveler who passes through the village must cross under it. This gate is a reminder to all who enter that polio will not make its home there ever again. Named the “Polio Eradication Gate,” it symbolizes India’s incredible accomplishment of stopping the spread of this infectious disease since 2014.
Health experts feared that India would be the last country to eradicate polio. In fact, the Moradabad district outside Delhi had been called the global epicenter of the disease. Thanks to the hard work of the community and its partners, PCI and the CORE Group Polio Project, they have now celebrated multiple years of being polio-free with no new cases reported.
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Empowering Communities and Health Workers
Making large-scale health changes depend on empowering communities, ensuring healthcare workers have the resources they need to succeed, and promoting education that will last long after an NGO leaves.
One of the challenges PCI faced at the community level was reversing mistrust of vaccines, which came, at least in part, from a myth that the government aimed to use the vaccine to sterilize young men. Since people are more trusting of those from their own community, we worked with locals to get out the word about polio treatment and prevention.
PCI recruited and trained community mobilization coordinators and enlisted the support of community and religious leaders. They even relied on schoolchildren to support their mission by encouraging them to announce dates of vaccination drives and communicate with family members about prevention.
Another aspect of PCI’s polio eradication program was to assist in organizing and facilitating health camps where medicines and vaccines are available to the community, provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. It was important to build the capacity of government frontline healthcare workers who were responsible for community outreach and monitoring of the infection in India. By empowering these workers, vigilant, capable community advocates and mobilizers can now assist with providing other needed health services, such as routine immunizations, and community education on sanitation and health.
PCI also integrates sanitation and maternal and child health programming in the vaccine campaigns. While the original purpose of the program was the eradication of polio, equipping communities with knowledge and tools around general health aids families in keeping polio at bay for good. Since polio is spread through poor sanitary practices, better hand washing and good sanitation help reduce the possibility of new infections.
The World Health Organization declared India polio-free in 2014 and its success is an example for the rest of the world. Infectious diseases will always be a threat, but PCI continues to work hard to ensure that preventable infections such as polio stay out of communities and remain history.
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