Updated: October 21, 2021 6:48:48 pm
Shajida Khatun (49), ANM health worker, Goalpara, Assam
Most of 49-year-old Shajida Khatun’s year has been spent navigating the waters of the Brahmaputra to vaccinate the residents of Assam’s remote chars and chaporis, or the shifting sandbars that dot the river and its tributaries.
An ANM (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) health worker in Goalpara district, Khatun has walked for hours, sometimes in knee-deep water, to vaccinate people in areas, where she says “no cars can even reach”.
Marked by poor health indices, illiteracy and poverty, the chars are not easy to access, especially during the monsoon.
“The terrain has always been challenging even for routine health check-ups. But for vaccination drives, it is even harder,” said Khatun, adding that they walk in the sandy islands in extreme heat and sometimes, rain.
“We start out the day before 8 am and if all goes well, we finish before 5 pm,” she said. Health workers reach the spot a day ahead of the drive to inform the people, so that they are ready the next day.
“However, many times people do not turn up despite being told before. This is because there is quite a bit of vaccine hesitancy in these areas – fuelled by rumours and superstitions,” she said.
In these cases, people like Khatun have the added responsibility of functioning as counsellors. “We talk to them for hours, tell them we have taken it too, till they finally come around. That is why the process takes longer than expected,” she said.
Vaccination in the char usually takes place under the shade of a large tree. “Once a vaccine vial is opened, a minimum of 10 people need to be injected. Sometimes, only two people show up for the drive, so then we go door to door and make them take their jabs,” she said.
Added to the hesitancy is the lack of mobile network in most char areas, which delays registration on CoWin portal.
“But we take it all in our stride — since what we are doing is a service to mankind,” said Khatun.
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