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Why The Indian Govt. Needs To Invest More In Immunization Programmes

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“Can we afford this?”

“What are we getting in return?”

 “Is there a better alternative out there?”

These are some of the questions that instinctively pop up in our heads in our individual and national quest to drive a good bargain. But what could be worth more than saving lives?

Governments aim to ensure the welfare of their citizens and better the whole nation. Even within the health sector, the government must make big choices—investing in hospitals or prevention, screening or toilets, ambulance services or nutritious food schemes. The Government of India is committed to achieving universal healthcare but to be successful, it is important to prevent diseases that have the potential to catastrophically impact health and divert resources from other national programmes.

Investing in disease prevention today reaps health, economic, and societal benefits in the future. As a nation, it is critical that we continue to invest in programmes that support our children’s wellbeing, like nutrition, handwashing, sanitation, and immunization. Vaccines are a smart investment, as vaccine-preventable diseases impact so many parts of our lives. Not only does immunization save lives, but it also prevents the devastating costs of hospitalization that may throw families into poverty or exacerbate inequalities.

A recap of recent history shows that the impact of vaccines is indisputable. Take smallpox, for instance – globally this painful and highly infectious disease claimed 300-500 million lives during the 20th century until vaccination led to its eradication in 1980. Polio is another key example – during the 1990s, the highly endemic poliovirus paralyzed 500-1000 Indian children daily. Through fervent Pulse Polio vaccine campaigns driven by public-private partnerships and sustained government efforts, India was certified polio-free in 2014. Similarly, until a few decades ago, 150,000 to 200,000 neonatal tetanus cases were reported every year in the country. The inclusion of the tetanus shot (tetanus toxoid vaccine) as a component of antenatal care contributed to India eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus in 2015. Demonstrated political commitment and strong leadership have been key to tackling the tremendous burden of these diseases.

The benefits of immunization go beyond improving health outcomes. Immunization allows both people and the economy to thrive. Vaccinated children tend to stay in school longer and show long-term productivity gains. A study in rural South Africa showed that, for every five to seven children vaccinated against measles, one full year of schooling was gained among children aged 6-11 years. Also, by averting future illnesses, immunization helps to avoid potentially hefty healthcare costs – not only for the government, but also for families that need to pay for transport, medicines, and food while at the hospital. Fewer child deaths and illnesses mean money saved on medicines, hospitalizations, and parents not missing out on work wages to care for sick children. In fact, for every $1 dollar invested in immunization, $16 is saved in healthcare costs, lost wages and lost productivity due to illnesses.

When many people are impacted by preventable diseases, our national productivity suffers. Healthy children and families, free from the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases, ensure a healthy, productive workforce and help advance our economy. Additionally, when enough people in a community are immunized, the likelihood of transmitting the disease goes down – this helps protect the broader community, including the elderly and children too young or old to be vaccinated, through a phenomenon commonly known as ‘herd protection’.

Despite this, hundreds of thousands of Indian children die annually due to vaccine-preventable diseases. Nearly 9 million children are either partially vaccinated or completely unvaccinated, meaning they miss out on vaccines that could protect them from illness, disability, and death from these diseases.

To make sure all children are protected by essential vaccines, the government’s Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) has been introducing new vaccines to tackle killer diseases such as rotavirus diarrhoea, pneumococcal pneumonia, Japanese encephalitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, Hib (pneumonia and meningitis), polio, measles, and rubella. In October 2017, the Prime Minister announced an ambitious target of 90% full immunization coverage across India by the end of 2018. But this goal can only be achieved by investing more in immunization. Currently, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – a public-private partnership – provides India with financing and access to low vaccine prices, and helps the Government of India strengthen its immunization programme and health system. Between 2016 and 2021, Gavi has pledged to contribute $500 million to India’s immunization efforts. India will transition out of eligibility for this support after 2021, leaving the government responsible for funding the country’s entire programme.

India has a large youth population, and the government is tasked with the crucial responsibility of giving each child the chance to reach their full potential and go on to contribute to their families, the workforce, and the nation. However, the government should not be sole defender of this endeavour. India’s youth need to be an integral part of this movement by continuously remaining informed and raising awareness on the benefits of immunization. Spread the word on social media, tap into your circles and encourage others to join in the discussion.

Vaccines save lives.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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