In April we visited another of the immunization camps that Seva Mandir runs every month in a number of remote rural hamlets. The government does have an immunization programme, but in these rural areas staffing of the camps and surgeries can be erratic, and it’s tough for mothers to walk miles with babes in arms only to find that the doctor or nurse hasn’t turned up this time.
An alarmingly small percentage of India’s rural children are fully immunized (35% in a recent study of the children attending Seva Mandir’s day-care centres) so providing a reliable service is very important.
Records are kept and mothers who cannot read or write make a fingerprint in the register.
In these remote areas one problem is making sure that all those who need the service are aware of when the camp will be held. Another is ensuring that mothers understand what to expect after their child has been immunized (that it is normal, for example, for their child to run a low temperature and be a bit under the weather after some injections) and also how important it is to complete the series of inoculations.
As an incentive, each mother receives 1 kg of lentils each time her child is inoculated, and a set of stainless steel serving dishes and utensils when the course is completed.
Seva Mandir has trained a team of nurses to administer the inoculations (mainly diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles and hepatitis as well as oral polio vaccine)
and to give antenatal check-ups to pregnant women.
We drive out to a small hamlet in Badgaon block, north-west of the city, and take with us members of the SM team and a doctor who will have a look at any children in need of medical attention.
In attendance are Bal Sakhis (local women who specialize in the care of infants) and Traditional Birth Attendants,
all trained by Seva Mandir. In an area where much so-called medical care is provided by totally untrained quacks, with frequently disastrous, sometimes fatal, results, this is a huge contribution to the region’s health.
As on our previous visit to an immunization camp, this one is held in a building which also houses an anganwadi, a government-sponsored mother- and childcare centre.
This room, like others we have visited, is decorated with illustrations from Aesop’s fables, which seems curious in the wilds of rural Rajasthan!
Immunization camps are not quiet places: babies go instantly from contentedly lying in their mothers’ arms to curiosity when the nurse approaches, to noisy shock and outrage when the needle jabs!
The fact that no child I have ever seen in rural India wears a nappy also makes for the odd accident, but that’s one of the advantages of sitting on a mat on the floor – easy to clean and quick to dry!