Immunization Camp: A Photo Essay by John and Felicia Pheasant

On the 4th of every month, Seva Mandir holds an immunization camp in a small village in Saru Zone, Girwa Block.  The camp is very well attended by pregnant women and mothers with young children.  They know they can count on the regular attendance of Seva Mandir-trained medical staff who administer inoculations and antenatal care competently and hygienically.  Every year, Seva Mandir holds immunization camps in over 100 villages in a program that poverty researchers and M.I.T. Professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo have called “the most impressive we have ever evaluated, and probably the one that has saved most lives.”

After a drive of 90 minutes and a walk across a river and up a hill, we reached a small, two-roomed building

 

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and are invited into a little room with Aesop’s fables depicted on the walls

 

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to find two female Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs), two female Balsakhis (infant health advisors)

 

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and two male inoculation staff, all trained and equipped by Seva Mandir, already hard at work,

 

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as other young mothers, carrying their children, arrived on foot.

 

Girwa.  Immunisation camp

 

Here’s what one mother, Geeta ji, had to say about the camp.

 

 

To understand ourselves, we turned to Dr Kusum, a retired gynecologist and head of Seva Mandir’s health unit, who explained proceedings to us,

 

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and kept a close eye on the care being given as well as offering valuable advice. Over the course of a couple of hours, the two men administered inoculations against DPT (diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough, tetanus) measles and hepatitis,

 

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Girwa.  Immunisation camp

 

as well as oral polio vaccine to about 20 children.  Last year, Seva Mandir’s camps together immunized over 1,300 children.

 

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The infants ranged from three months to just a year,

 

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and before long the small room was ringing with cries as startled babies objected to the injections.

 

Girwa.  Immunisation camp

 

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All the mothers were sitting on the floor

 

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or standing to rock their little ones in their arms,

 

Girwa.  Immunisation camp

 

and all comforted them by breastfeeding them.

 

Girwa.  Immunisation camp

 

Before long, the little ones regained their composure.

 

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As an incentive to bring children for immunization, mothers receive 1 kg of lentils after each inoculation, and a set of stainless serving utensils when their child finished his or her course.  The idea of incentivizing attendance came out of a research study with M.I.T.’s Jameel Poverty Action Lab conducted in 2004-2007, and has increased full immunization rates from a baseline of 6% to 40% in many villages.

 

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Each child has an immunization booklet with notes, a growth chart and a space for recording the regular immunizations, and the health workers keep careful records.  Mothers sign with a thumb print to acknowledge their child’s treatment and receipt of their gifts.

 

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The Balsakhis examine the children and give mothers advice on feeding (exclusively breast milk up till six months), introducing solids, and also help with advice on common ailments and contraception.

After the babes, it is the turn of the pregnant women, who are examined by the TBAs.  Their eyes, nails, abdomen, blood pressure and weight are checked and their urine tested, and they receive iron and folic acid tablets. The empty packaging seemed to be a delicacy for some little ones!

 

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Nearly 2,000 expectant mothers receive antenatal through Seva Mandir’s camps.  The process completed, the young women start to head home, safe in the knowledge that they and their children are protected against many debilitating and sometimes fatal diseases.

 

Girwa.  Immunisation camp

 

Antenatal checks and the immunization of infants are the responsibility of the government, and there is a clinic in the Zone.  However, for pregnant women and mothers with infants living in remote villages, the clinic is prohibitively far away.  Moreover, studies have shown that 45% of government health staff who carry out immunizations are absent from their clinic on any given workday, and so families prefer to attend Seva Mandir’s regular and reliable camp.  A great job being done by dedicated and competent staff.

 

 

About the Authors: Having retired after careers in publishing and the law respectively, Felicia and John now spend some of their time in India supporting Seva Mandir.  You can find more stories relating to their work with Seva Mandir at their blog, johnandfelicia.co