Sitting in a tiny room in a Govandi slum bylane, several religious leaders, some slum-dwelling women and adolescent girls, are all ears to what a health worker tells them. Sunita Choure calls it a “sensitisation session”. The idea behind these sessions is to disperse myths about immunisation and encourage locals to take up immunisation of their newborns. Choure, who also works with government health workers and organisation Apnalaya, says the human development index in the M-east ward, comprising Govandi area, is one of the lowest in Mumbai.
Siraj Ahmed Ansari (50), a maulvi in Babra Ahmed Mosque, says, “I had heard that immunisation leads to impotency and polio. Then I saw the immunisation shots myself and how they are administered. Since then I started to help this practise as much as I could.” “When I recently saw a woman breastfeeding her baby while she was lying down, I told her how this is not the right way and could be dangerous for the baby. I told her about the right posture to feed the baby and how breast milk boosts immunity in babies,” he adds.
Like Ansari, 40 local religious leaders in the slum cluster of Govandi spread the message related to health and importance of immunisation through sermons and casual discussions with community members. Mulana Shamim Ahmed, who conducts namaz at Namra Masjid, says locals are suspicious of vaccines and quick to believe that it does more harm than good.
“My children have been vaccinated. I hold them as an example to anyone one who has any doubts. The only way we can get through to these people is by showing actual change,” says the 45-year-old. Along with Ahmed, women and adolescent girls living in the cluttered lanes take out few hours every week to create awareness about maternal and child health. Located next to the dumping grounds, the condition of hygiene in the slum are poor.
“It is a high-risk area for sickness and infection, especially in women and children,” Choure says. Health workers in the area decided to pool in locals to help and improve the health conditions.
A Mother Support Group, which focuses on providing assistance to pregnant and lactating women, is currently 85-people strong. All local women, aged 25 to 42, share the knowledge they have received during pregnancy from local health post. Another local, Shefali Kadar Sheikh, 44, is a ragpicker, who now volunteers with the group. “My son was two years old when he fell seriously ill. I hadn’t vaccinated him earlier. That day, I saw the doctors insert needles in him, and I couldn’t bear it. I vaccinated my next child, because I didn’t want to risk him ever again. I’ve told this story to several women so that they understand that immunisation is important,” she says.