In the thick of the cold winter mist, with a woolen scarf around her face, 25 year old Anju Naik starts her day by knocking on the doors of residents of Rohina Village, situated in Phalodi Block of Jodhpur district in Rajasthan. Every day she manages to reach out to at least 10-12 households as part of a door-to-door campaign to raise awareness about Covid-19 vaccination.
Anju is not alone. Around 200 volunteers with Doosra Dashak, a Foundation for Education and Development are going door-to-door in several villages of western Rajasthan to ensure that maximum vaccination is carried out. In the wake of the Covid third wave, with Rajasthan touching over 9000 fresh Covid-19 cases every day, the health department, administration and the local NGOs in both rural and urban areas are on their toes to ensure that all eligible people are doubly vaccinated and taking precautions.
“For the last four months, I have been constantly spending time in Rohina and other villages and collecting data on people who have been vaccinated and those eligible but yet to get vaccinated. I am addressing their apprehensions, hesitancy and questions. While I answer their queries and motivate them, I also show them testimonies of people who have taken the jab”, said Anju Naik told Covid Response Watch. Rohina is one of the villages where the volunteers are working to convince the people as well as take them to the vaccination centres.
Rohina is a typical hamlet in western Rajasthan. Covered by dunes, the roads are dusty and the population is sparse. The village with 800 households lacks any transportation service, and the nearest school or market is kilometers away. Even the nearest community health centre is at Champasar, another village at a distance of six kilometres.
For a volunteer, to convince a household it takes around 40 minutes to one hour and even stretches to multiple sittings with the family members to convince them. “It is usually the women who are left behind. And the hesitation to take jabs is due to the rumours spreading in the village that vaccination hampers ferritization and delays the menstrual cycle. So, it takes rounds of discussion with each household and sometimes with the community to break this myth. I show them case study videos on my phone and give them posters”, added Anju.
Besides the awareness, the volunteers also arrange to accompany the villagers to the vaccination centre and in some cases also organize a pick and drop facility for them.
We accompany them and ensure that they are taking relevant documents and a mobile phone along. After they are done with vaccination, we make a note of when their next jab is due”, added Anju. The job of volunteers doesn’t end here as they even check on them to see if there are any after-effects of the vaccination and direct them to a doctor in case of fever or nausea.
After the intervention of Doosra Dashak, the number of vaccinations went up. For instance, in Rohina village itself vaccination, which was around 30 percent till October 2021, has now touched 80 percent.
“The vaccination rate has gone up in the last three months. The major vaccine hesitancy was among the marginalized and minority communities here. Jod village which is dominated by Muslim and Bhil tribes was lagging behind as the people were reluctant to get their jabs. However, after regular visits made by ASHA sanyogini and the volunteers from the NGOs things became better”, says Dr Daulal Chouhan, Block Chief Medical Officer, Baap Block of district Jodhpur, who is monitoring the vaccination process in 186 villages.
The vaccination facility is available in most health centres and around 79 percent of the block’s population of 2.7 lakh had their first dose, while 67 percent had their second dose. Occasionally the health department also arranges mobile vaccination vans in the far-off hamlets.
“The distance and lack of transportation are the major reasons for the dip in the rate of vaccination, besides the existing myths which have also delayed the process’, added Chouhan.
“Our aim is to become a bridge between the administration and the communities. In 2020, during the first Covid wave our focus was on migrant labourers, pregnant and lactating women to whom we distributed food and nutrition kits. In the second wave again we distributed sanitary napkins and volunteered during the oxygen crisis. While awareness and vaccine literacy have been our focus since 2021, we also decided to come up with fresh data for vaccination by going door-to-door to 80,000 households, instead of relying on the voter list data used by the government. We found differences in the numbers, identified those left out and took them for vaccination”, Murari Lal Thanvi, spearheading this campaign at Doosra Dashak told Covid Response Watch.
So far the campaign is being carried out in selected blocks of five districts such as Jodhpur, Pali, Ajmer,Baran, Alwar and Jaipur. The campaign has also proved as a source of income to 200 campaigners who receive Rs 4000 remuneration per month for their work. The campaigners, who play a dual role of coordinator and leader – underwent training and orientation before they were sent to the field.
“I found this as an opportunity to work for the welfare of people. Now we are trying to empower some of those who have been vaccinated and make them role models in their community”, 28-year-old Surya Vyas, working in Jod village, told Covid Response Watch.
The campaign has also made the post-vaccination process hassle-free by providing red cards to those who have done the first dose and black cards to those who have done both doses. The cards have their names written on them as well along with the due date for the next dose.
“Since most of the people don’t have access to mobile messages we give them these cards, which have their vaccination details written. Also, we paste posters of appreciation outside the main door of the houses where the entire household is vaccinated”, added Surya.
“Empowering and spreading education has been our main forte but looking at the scenario, as schools are shut, we diverted our focus towards Covid-19 awareness, the need of the hour. Now we aim to focus on vaccination of children and the booster dose and spread the same campaign to other districts of Rajasthan”, said Abhimanyu Singh, Chairman of Doosra Dashak.
As of January 22, 2022, Rajasthan reported 14,829 fresh Covid-19 cases and 17 deaths, according to a report by the state’s health department. Jaipur reported the highest number of fresh cases at 3,988, Jodhpur 1,144 and Alwar 1,222, the report stated. So far, 11,15,790 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Rajasthan. Of these, 9,076 people have died and 10,17,481 recovered, the report said. The number of active cases in the state stands at 89,233.
Tabeenah Anjum is a journalist based in Rajasthan, reporting on politics, gender, human rights, and issues impacting marginalised communities. She tweets @tabeenahanjum