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Rota vaccines may save infants from occult practices in Odisha villages

Himalayan Paths

By Rupesh Dutta
Bhubaneshwar, March 28 (IANS)
Diarrhoea spells doom for the young parents in Odisha’s remote areas, where the dreaded disease caused by Rota Virus is one of the highest in the country.

Among the reasons that make the condition more pathetic is unavailability of doctors in the public health centres, which is the only source of medical care for thousands of young mothers like Puru Mohanty, who lost two of her infant boys to diarrhoea a year ago.

Till now giving in to occult practices and herbal medicines were the only options for Mohanty, who has a week old daughter. But with the Government’s recent launch of Rota Virus vaccine in the state she has got a ray of hope that her new born will survive.

The programme promises to provide the vaccine to every six-weeks-old infants for free at all the public health facilities of the state.

“This Rota virus vaccine is a great help to poor parents like us. I can�t express the fear we had till now of losing our children to diarrhoea. I have lost two of my children, so I know the pain. I hope the vaccine prevents my week-old daughter from facing the same fate like my sons,� Mohanty told IANS in Oriya.

She said that programme would also help her avoid travelling several miles for medical services.

Rota is a highly contagious virus that infects majority of children before their first birthday. It is the most common cause of severe diarrhoea among children, often necessitating hospitalisation, and leading to death.

Preeti Jena, a young mother from a village on the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar, said: �In our area, the children born in hospitals are given vaccines. However, there was no effort made to immunise the childen born at home against any disease.”

The Rota vaccine programme aims to bridge this gap by sending health workers to village health centres to immunise the children against diarrhoea.

According to people in Khurda, Koraput and Malkangiri, many of the young parents in several parts of Odisha get drawn towards occult practices such as branding of infants with hot metals when they see nothing else works.

Under the vaccine programme, launched in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha and Haryana, Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) will go to all the public health facilities of these states and provide vaccines for infants up to six weeks. The second and third doses will be administered when the child is 10 and 14 weeks old, respectively.

Bijaya Laxmi Mohanty, an Auxiliary Nurse Midwifery worker, stated that one of their focus area would be to cover those who had been left out in the villages, where mothers are not able to turn up for the immunisation programme.

The programme is aimed at curbing the deaths of infants from diarrhoea — 20,000 in Odisha. It will also help drastically reduce the 88,000 deaths and 8.7 lakh hospitalisations of children across the country every year.

In Odisha, Rota Virus-caused diarrhoea accounts for over nine per cent of the disease burden. The state has the highest number of children afflicted by the disease in the country.

Terming the occasion historic, union Health Minister J.P. Nadda said: “This is not a routine programme. This Rota vaccine launch sets the goal in the field of Indian health system.�

Rakesh Kumar, joint secretary in the union health ministry, who is in charge of all immunisation programmes, said they would try and roll out the programme across the country in the next two years.

“This vaccine programme is a proven one and we are sure that it will bring down the incidence of diarrhoea caused by Rota virus,� he told IANS.

A similar Rota virus vaccination programme has been tried in Mexico and Brazil, where the figures of affliction have dropped by 46 percent and 22 percent, respectively.

“Diarrhoea not only kills, but leads to malnutrition among our children. This is one of the best moves against Rota virus by any country in the world,� said Kumar.

(Rupesh Dutta visited Bhubaneswar at the invitation of the Union ministry of health. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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