Providing vaccination against COVID in rural areas: Jabs knocking on the door in Raigad, Maharashtra; here’s how

Since vaccination centers are far from the village, visiting vaccination centers can be a full day’s task for community members in remote villages.

In January 2021, India launched the largest vaccination campaign for over 138 crores of citizens with a lot of misinformation and myths in the population. Initially, while battling the second wave, the vaccination campaign progressed at a dismal rate, but when the government changed its approach to vaccination for the entire adult population, the vaccination campaign began to fall apart. accelerate. As of December 20, 2021, official figures indicate that more than 1.37 billion doses of vaccination have been administered in the country. While citizen immunization is government led, nonprofit organizations are filling the gaps by working with local and grassroots governments to make the immunization campaign acceptable and accessible for rural India, home to more of the half of the Indian population.

Meet Jayshri Jayram Gaikwad is a 65-year-old resident of Kumbarshet – a village upstream from Sudhagad, Raigad. Leaning on her grandson and her son, she managed to walk to the premises of the public school, where the COVID-19 vaccination camp was taking place. She took her first jab and thanked the medical team and the Swades Foundation team. Suffering from severe joint pain and the remote village having limited means of movement, Jaishri Gaikwad is said to have difficulty reaching the nearest medical center located 4 km from his village. She shares, “I can’t walk without support. Taking a bus from our village and visiting the dispensary near our village is a full day’s task. If the camp had not been organized in our village by government authorities and the Swades Foundation, I cannot imagine getting vaccinated. Or it would have been a big task for me to reach the dispensary.

Like Jayshri, many other rural women and men in the most remote villages of Raigad, Maharashtra was able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 thanks to the vaccination on wheels organized by the district authorities supported by the Swades Foundation. Ronnie and Zarina Screwvala’s philanthropic initiative has been active in the field of geography for over 20 years and driven by their mission to empower rural life, it has impacted over half a million members from the community. Since the start of the pandemic, the Swades Foundation has been working hand in hand with the district administration to control the spread of COVID-19.

Up to December 20, more than 31,000 vaccinations have been supported under the Vaccination on Wheels initiative in the most remote parts of Raigad district in Maharashtra. Raigad District Administration and The Swades Foundation have taken a systematic approach to this successful vaccination campaign.

Understand and fight against vaccine hesitancy

In early 2021, as the nationwide vaccination campaign was launched, the air was filled with a lot of misinformation. This has added to the fear and apprehension in the minds of the rural population in particular, the tribal population. The Swades Foundation and the district administration first surveyed 570 community members over the age of 45 in remote villages in June 2021 to understand their apprehensions and fears. More than 45% of tribal community members said they feared the side effects of the vaccination. The survey showed that 74% of community members were unwilling to vaccinate. The Swades Foundation then responded to these fears by organizing virtual sessions with experts. The more than 1,300 Village Development Committees (VDCs) of the Swades Foundation – a group of empowered community members who volunteer to plan and execute development plans for their village and Swades Mitra – Village Health Volunteers played a decisive role in mobilizing community members for immunization.

With a core belief in community participation, the Swades Foundation has also engaged opinion leaders and key stakeholders to ensure that vaccination camps receive maximum community participation for this. The village of Sarpanch de Dapoli in Raigad understood the challenges faced by members of the rural community of Raigad during the second wave. To avoid a similar situation in his village, he understood that vaccination was the only weapon. So, he joined the ASHA agent to mobilize community members for immunization and led community group discussions and also went door-to-door to motivate community members for immunization.

Mobile vaccination campaigns

Since vaccination centers are far from the village, visiting vaccination centers can be a full day’s task for community members in remote villages. For many villagers who survive on a daily wage, skipping a day’s work means no food for the family that day. Likewise, understanding the concerns of elderly and disabled citizens, going to vaccination centers far from their village is a huge challenge. Understanding this, the Swades Foundation supported the district administration with three mobile vans that would take the government health team to the most remote villages and ensure successful vaccination of community members. This partnership provided the district health service with mobility support to reach hard-to-navigate villages and also enable on-site vaccination camps for the workforce on farms, commercial sites and sites. project.

Careful bottom-up planning resulted in successful vaccination of remote community members. ASHA village workers and Swades Mitra prepared a list of eligible candidates and shared it with the nearest health center. By ensuring optimal use of resources and vaccines, health teams deployed mobile vaccination vans to villages and ensured the success of vaccination camps. Sharmila Prabhakar Utekar, the Swades Mitra for the village of Turbhe Khurd in Poladpur shares, “At the start of the year, vaccines were available at the Primary Health Center. But community members were reluctant to visit as modes of transportation from our village are limited. It is difficult for the elderly to move around. Therefore, the vaccination did not take off. But, when the Vaccination on Wheels initiative was launched, people were able to get vaccinated at their doorstep. They didn’t have to quit their jobs or travel far to get the vaccine. I informed community members and prepared the list of eligible candidates for vaccination. This is how we ensured the complete vaccination of more than 100 community members in our village. “

Another inspiring story is that of the village of Kudgaon in Raigad. The women led the village VDC members, first got themselves vaccinated, and then convinced the hesitant villagers to get vaccinated. Rajashree Dombale sharing his experience said “Initially, the villagers were reluctant to be vaccinated. Everyone was afraid of the side effects this could cause. That’s when we decided to take our first dose first and then convince the villagers to get vaccinated. We told them that we were in good health and that the vaccination had no side effects. This motivated many villagers and they were ready to be vaccinated.

Community participation and ownership

As the district administration also responded to the second wave, the health infrastructure and workers were overwhelmed. The Swades Foundation Village Development Committee took the lead and mobilized community members, contacted health centers for vaccination and provided logistical support. In the village of Barasgaon, the vaccination participation rate was low. Ten empowered women from the village mobilized the villagers by making home visits, understood their hesitations about vaccinations and supported them with the necessary information thanks to the experts and experiences of the vaccinated community members. They also convinced the medical staff to reschedule the camp and these women organized and managed it. About 409 community members were vaccinated in the village.

The Foundation has now expanded to Nashik and also supports the Vaccination on Wheels initiative there. Since the first lockdown, Swades has supported emergency relief and recovery measures. This includes support for 17,000 grocery kits for tribal families in Raigad and more than 3.6 lake meals for migrants, homeless people and wage earners in Mumbai. The Foundation also supported aid with essential medical equipment to government health facilities worth INR 15 crore, including 14 ambulances, 179 jumbo oxygen cylinders, 16 ventilators, 144 oxygen concentrators, etc.

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