Currently, parts of India have eight or more immunisation days each year (known as sub-NIDs) and the whole of India gets at least two immunisation days during the year. In the run up to a vaccination day, posters and banners are displayed everywhere telling anyone who can read that a vaccination day is coming, there are adverts in newspapers and it is mentioned on the radio. This only works however if you can read (in 2011 the overall literacy rate was 75%), or can read and afford to buy a newspaper or have a radio or TV.
So in order to raise awareness of the forthcoming vaccination day, parades are held in some of the larger towns during which you make as much noise as possible, get as many people as you can to join in and generally try to ensure that everyone who sees you or gets stuck in the inevitable traffic jam which results, knows that there is a vaccination day tomorrow.
It seems to be the case that throughout India, the population need to see (and possibly want to see) processions, speeches and general noise related to polio vaccination before they will remember to bring their children along to be vaccinated the following day.
And so Saturday 22nd February finds us in Ghaziabad which is to the east of New Delhi on the map below.
The Public Relations industry would have a hard job if it was given the task of improving the image of the city of Ghaziabad. It is sometimes called the “Gateway of UP” because it lies on the road to Uttar Pradesh. We went through it last year on our way to our NID sites in rural UP and it was unimpressive to say the least.
Web sites say that it is known for its high crime rates and for being the most polluted city in Uttar Pradesh. Its reputation was not helped by the fact that in 2013 a gangster film was released supposedly based on real life crime wars in the city in the 1980s and 90s. Recent newspaper headlines have called it “the child kidnap capital” of India and if one believes the newspapers and police reports, it is a also centre for trafficking girls to be slaves or child prostitutes in the capital. It has a population of around 2.4 million of which 53% are male. The literacy rate is said to be 94% which is higher than a lot of areas and economically, it is categorised as lower than the average for India. In contrast to its poverty are a number of large high rise communities recently built outside of the city - these are now being used as the modern image of the city rather than those of the downtown areas.
Despite all of these less than encouraging facts, the Rotary team are going there en-masse dressed in our Polio finery to take part in pre-NID publicity activities, including (as it was described to us) "a procession behind a noisy band”. It seems to be the case throughout India that although vaccinations are regularly carried out and posters and banners appear throughout the country advertising the fact, the population need to see (and possibly want to see) processions, speeches and general noise related to polio vaccination before they will remember to bring their children along to be vaccinated the following day. One has to remember that often a significant number of people cannot read and are too poor to own radios and therefore this type of activity is how they learn that vaccination is taking place.
So we assemble early on Saturday morning, all dressed in our finery and drive to Ghaziabad.
Along the way, we see our first posters advertising the NID with the Rotary Logo in the top left corner,
they are of a standard format and bright yellow - the same as our uniforms. In some cases they have been hung over those advertising the previous Sub-National Immunisation Day (SNID) held in January. The Indian method is to immunise the whole of the country two or three times a year and the high risk areas only an additional five or six times a year.
Our destination is a school in the centre of town. By Indian standards, it is a good and well equipped
school and it is certainly better than many we have seen. As is always the case, the day starts with a Rally and speeches.
But because India was declared "Polio Free” a few weeks ago and the whole of the Region is due to be declared Polio Free towards the end of March, the speeches go on for longer than normal but the whole school patiently stands in the playground listening whilst every dignitary present (and there are a lot of them) says something. The reason as to why we continue vaccinating was covered in the first blog entry here.
When the talking stops, it is a welcome moment signified by ceremonial dancing,
and then paint throwing
three of our number are mounted on horses to head the procession and we set off around the town
led by the Rotary Tuc-Tuc and surrounded by slightly bemused onlookers.
During the hour or so that we are walking up and down different streets,
causing more traffic mayhem than would ever be allowed anywhere else.
I experience one of those magic moments which proves to us why Rotarians across the world have been united in the goal of eliminating Polio. I am approached by a man dressed in very poor clothes, rags almost and he indicates general bemusement at what is going on and asks why am I here? I show him the writing on the back of my shirt and after quite some time whilst he works out what it says, he suddenly grasps my hand and almost shakes it off and more than indicates his gratitude whilst talking to me at a rapid rate in Hindi (which of course I do not understand). Together however, we are certain that we understand each other and I think I am able to indicate to him that I am honoured to be allowed to meet him. This reaction is typical and quite common.
Eventually, we are back to where we started and lunch is provided before our coach heads back through the Delhi traffic mayhem to our hotel.