The Prime Minister of India said he had only one word for the volunteers who had helped India become polio-free. That word was gratitude.
Without 2.5 million working days of volunteers, the huge task of mass immunisation of 172 million children under five-years-old would not have been possible.
These volunteers have come from Indian Rotary clubs, helped by Rotarians from Belgium, Sweden, USA and Japan as well as student nurses. Over the last 12 years a small 0.2% of these came from the Rotary Britain & Ireland volunteer groups who have gone to help our Indian colleagues.
We have been statistically small, but recognised to be very important. Our groups have been directed to help in districts classed as high risk due to them having poor sanitation, high population density and being near to borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan. The aim now is to keep India polio-free.
The enhanced importance of a volunteer from Britain & Ireland is that in a Delhi slum or remote village, we do attract more children to one of the many immunisation booths set up all over India.
One example came to light when the Senior Epidemiologist of Amritsar visited a booth where last year they immunised 152 children. This year, with three volunteers from our islands, they had immunised 361 by the time of his visit in the afternoon.
Rotary volunteers with their spouses or adult children are required to be in India from Friday, before the NID, until Monday evening after the NID, which is always on Sunday.
It is not a holiday but most volunteers stay before or after the NID to be a tourist.
This year 66 volunteers went to help the January NID, from Rotary clubs stretching from Guernsey to Orkney and including the Rotary Britain & Ireland President Eve Conway.
After a briefing in Delhi on Friday, January 27th, they divided into groups going to Amritsar, Delhi and Bhiwadi where on Saturday they helped publicise the next days NID.
Then on Sunday they were in teams of three at the many booths, giving drops, marking the little fingers and trying to draw more children to the booths.
On Monday, they went house-to-house with a health worker, trying to find the children missed on Sunday.
In 2016, India introduced immunisation by injection which is safer, long lasting but more expensive.
The switch is progressing well with 65% coverage on average but as low as 40% coverage in slum areas so they need to be supplemented with oral drops to keep the level of protection above 90%.
There will be National Immunisation Days continuing into 2018 and possibly 2019.
If you are interested, email me and Mike Yates will let you know more details when the date for the early 2018 NID is fixed in September.
© Rotary News