The harbingers of change: Powerful women who ushered in a new wave of healthcare services in India’s interiorshttps://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/health/the-harbingers-of-change-powerful-women-who-ushered-in-a-new-wave-of-healthcare-services-in-indias-interiors-5612336/

The harbingers of change: Powerful women who ushered in a new wave of healthcare services in India’s interiors

Geeta Verma, a female health worker from Mandi district in Himachal Pradesh, attracted attention after WHO featured her in its 2018 calendar. She has ensured prevention vaccinations for diseases like measles and rubella are available for everyone in her village.

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As John McCain once said, “Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.” Such is the exemplary life of Meena Kumari, who took upon herself the responsibility of immunizing the children of Malana, a remote village, nestled among the lush green forests of the Parvati Valley in Himachal Pradesh.

For Meena Kumari, to create awareness in a place that has remained outside the ambit of immunization was difficult. More so because the locals believe that they are pure Aryans and descendants of Alexander the Great, and any contact with outsiders would make them impure. But this did not deter her and she sought the help of Nirma Devi, a local woman working with ASHA, who was familiar with Kanashi, the local language.

While talking about her journey to indianexpress.com, Meena Kumari said, “Medical science and vaccination wasn’t a subject of consideration for them. Women of that village used to run away from us thinking I would poison their children with these vaccination injections. But later on, the Anganwadi teachers helped me in arranging group counselling sessions where we explained things.”

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Standing tall: Meena Kumari from ANM (L) and Nirma Devi from ASHA.
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Meena Kumari showing the alternate walking route through the forest that she takes during winter to reach Malana.

Not just fighting social taboos, Meena Kumari also had to carry the vaccine herself, travelling partly by public transport and partly on foot as alternate vaccine delivery was not possible due to the hilly terrain.

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Now often, after a full day’s work, the villagers arrange and offer food to Meena Kumari and also accompany her till she reaches the main road and gets a public transport.

“Nirma used to be embarrassed with all the shaming that we used to face but I didn’t want the kids to suffer just because their parents are uneducated and unaware. Previously, they used to go visit the temple when their children had high fever or measles.” Now things are different. After a year of persistence, the feisty duo managed to break barriers.

“Now that I am posted in Manali, they ask my colleagues about me and even send their regards”, adds Meena Kumari.

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There are no unvaccinated children left in Malana today.
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It’s the first time that a female health worker from Mandi has been recognised by WHO.

Then there is Geeta Verma, a female health worker from Mandi district in Himachal Pradesh who attracted attention after WHO featured her in its 2018 calendar. Verma has ensured prevention vaccinations for diseases like measles and rubella are available for everyone in her village. “The biggest challenge is to convince Muslim and Gujjar families in interior areas. Their houses are situated at a distance of around 1km and the complication with vaccination is that once the seal is opened it has to be utilised within 30-40 minutes. To convince them and immunise the child within such short time span was tough.”

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Geeta received appreciation from Chief Minister of Himachal Jai Ram Thakur for her achievements.

When asked about her family’s reaction to her coverage in WHO’s calender, Verma gracefully says, “My family is educated so they expect good work from me but it is satisfying as a healthcare worker”.

Verma adds that it gives her immense satisfaction to fight against challenges and overcome them. She believes that women are no less than men in any aspect and has loved carrying out challenging tasks since childhood.