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The Vaccination Crisis In India And USA That Is Plaguing The Lives Of Many Children

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By Vaagisha Das

Although India is a leading producer and exporter of vaccines, the country is home to one-third of the world’s unimmunised children. However, this is apparently no cause for worry, as believed by some parents in the U.S., sinceGod gave everyone the ability to heal from within and he gave us all the tools to heal naturally.” Contrasting the state of infant vaccinations in the U.S. with that of India seems almost ridiculous, yet with the growing number of anti-vaccination activists in America, the outcome remains surprisingly similar- gradual increase in the number of unimmunised children, causing widespread diseases, disabilities, and even death. While most American parents are wary of getting their children vaccinated due to an unfounded fear of vaccines causing autism, parents in India are unable to do so simply because they do not have the resources or the knowledge to comprehend why vaccination is needed. Hence, both the cases are based on uncertainty and fear of the unknown, and little is being done to dispel them of preconceived notions.

The Anti Vaccination Movement (AVM) in America is two pronged- one prong denies any direct correlation between vaccines and the diseases that they are taken as protection against diseases, while the other goes one step further and into the territory of vaccines being harmful for health. Supporters of the latter belief claim that the MMR (mumps-measles-rubella) vaccine causes autism, despite there being no evidence for the same. The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a list of more than 40 studies showing no link whatsoever between vaccines and autism, yet parents continue to protest against vaccines. The movement has further been popularised by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, who claimed to discover that her son ‘became’ autistic as a result of his shots- even though autism is a congenital disease.

When California sought to tighten its immunisation laws after a measles outbreak- a disease thought to be eradicated fifteen years ago- it faced angry protests from vocal activists, who went so far as to claim that the new law that made vaccination mandatory was akin to the Holocaust. This was based on the pro-choice argument of individuals being able to decide what ‘goes into their body’. Little did these activists keep in mind that unvaccinated kids would be endangering those who were too young, or others who were unable to get vaccinated due to medical conditions. Although the idea of stopping vaccination in its entirety seems far-fetched, these activists have been successful enough to force three states to pull back a ‘personal belief’ exemption for vaccination.

In India, vaccines are similarly available yet unable to be accessed by those who need them the most. However, this is not a matter of choice. Fewer than 44 percent of India’s young children receive the full schedule of immunisations. This is mainly due to ignorance and hence decreased demand, as well as the much popularised polio shots having stolen the spotlight- consequently side lining other vaccines available. For example, pneumonia is the leading killer of children in India, accounting for the death of a majority of children under five years of age. Vaccines for pneumonia, although available elsewhere, and not sold in India- attributing it to the low demand for these. In India’s slums, surveillance as well as keeping tabs on diseases is an arduous task. In many instances, people are unable to discuss or even identify the symptoms- thereby proving time and again the dangers of obliviousness.

Pneumonia accounted for 371,605 deaths in children under age five in 2008, India. According to recent estimates, the 81,275 annual deaths from measles in India account for three-quarters of the global deaths from this disease. It is estimated that two-thirds of the children who die of measles and the other preventable childhood diseases would have survived if they had been immunised. In America, non-vaccination brought an almost eradicated disease back. The limbs of a boy were amputated in order to save him for meningitis – which could’ve been prevented if he had been vaccinated. In such a case, the course of action open to us is simple: in order for this to stop, more of us must speak up until there’s no doubt remaining that vaccines are safe, necessary, and they work.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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