No development, no polio drops: Bihar villagers

April 2nd, 2008 - 5:53 pm ICT by admin  

Patna, April 2 (IANS) Protesting lack of development in their village, nearly 100 ‘poorest of the poor’ families have boycotted the ongoing pulse polio drive in Bihar refusing administration of the vaccine to their infants. The angry backward caste families of Pathra village under Dariyapur block in Saran district, about 125 km from here, say they boycotted the vaccination drive to draw the attention of officials as well as politicians to the absence of development in their area.

“The villagers refused to administer polio drops to their infants to send a message to the top brass of the state administration,” said Parma Mahto, a middle-aged villager. Another villager Lakshman Mahto said their “simple demand” was “basic development” in the village.

The villagers said they decided last month not to allow any government sponsored programme in the village unless roads, electricity, drinking water and a school for their children were provided.

“We will continue the boycott until we are provided roads, power, water and school in the village,” said Kamlesh, a village youth.

Informed of the boycott, health officials and local leaders reached the village and tried to dissuade the villagers but to no avail - the villagers remained firm on the boycott till they saw development in their area.

The pulse polio programme is not the first one being boycotted by the villagers. To highlight their demand, they did not allow government-sponsored DDT spray in their village last month.

“We turned back a government team without allowing it to spray DDT in our village,” Kamlesh said. Significantly, no government official has visited the village till date to inquire about the incident.

Most of the villagers belong to the Bind caste and earn their livelihood working as daily labourers or by making bamboo baskets. The literacy rate among them is very low. They live in thatched huts and draw their drinking water from the river because two of three hand pumps provided are non-functional.

To add to their woes, the villagers claim that they have not yet got job cards despite having applied for them under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Moreover, they have also not been granted brick houses under the Indira Awas Yojna.

Boycott of the pulse polio drive has also been reported from Sugauna village in Madhubani district to protest the lack of development. According to unconfirmed reports, similar boycotts were resorted to by villagers in various other parts of the state.

The battle against polio is far from over in Bihar, which has the highest incidence of the disease in India and recorded over 100 new cases in the first three months of 2008. This is an alarming rise compared to reported cases in the first three months of 2007.

Currently, 25 of the 38 districts in Bihar are in the grip of the polio virus. Most new cases were reported from Samastipur (15), Darbhanga (10), Muzaffarpur (7), Madhubani (7), Saharsa (6), Vaishali (5), Purnea (5), Khagaria (5) and Nalanda (4) districts.

India, which recorded 864 cases last year, is the number one polio endemic country in the world with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh - described as ’sick’ states for their poor economic and social parameters - recording the highest incidence. Bihar surprised many with its high 396 cases in 2007 as against just 61 in 2006.

The target of eradicating polio in Bihar remains a big challenge for national and international organisations, including Unicef and WHO as the new cases have surfaced despite millions of rupees being spent on a series of immunisation drives.

According to official records, several rounds of immunisation drives as well as special immunisation rounds were carried out in January and February this year, but the results were poor.

The state government with the help of WHO, Unicef and the Indian National PolioPlus Committee has identified 72 blocks for an intensified anti-polio campaign to eradicate the disease from Bihar by the end of 2008.

Health officials say that detection of polio cases caused by the P3 strain of the virus is a big challenge. Unlike the P1 strain, it hardly responds to the vaccine.

The disease, which is passed on through the faecal-oral route, affects children up to five years of age. It causes paralysis of the limbs and can be fatal in severe cases.

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