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India’s pink army: Bringing healthcare to doorsteps of deprived

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By Bhavana Akella 

Bengaluru, Nov 1 : In a country where quality healthcare remains a privilege of the rich and influential, a silent army of women, clad in pink sarees, work tirelessly and selflessly to make basic healthcare facilities accessible to those who live on the margins of the growing Indian economy, particularly in the country’s vast rural hinterland.

Barely getting time to sleep as calls for help keep coming round the clock, this pink army — as they are popularly known — is the backbone of the primary healthcare in India’s 600,000 villages, providing a connect between the community and the inadequate public health system. These are the trained female community health activists — called Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) — under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) of the Indian government.

Instrumental in bringing down the infant mortality rate from over 50 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005 (when ASHA was launched) to 34 deaths in 2016, these women provide information to people in rural areas about health, sanitation and nutrition; conduct ante-natal and post-natal checkups; assist women during their deliveries, deliver polio vaccines and conduct health surveys.

With many of them mothers themselves, they often take along their children to the clinics at unearthly hours because they can’t leave them behind at home.

Clad in the trademark pink saree, her work uniform, state health worker Godavari Anil Rathore, 23, a resident of Kalaburgi, Karnataka, about 623 km north of state capital Bengaluru, is one of the youngest employed as an ASHA.

“When I was a kid, I remember how my aunt had a baby and lost it just within two months. The baby had contracted malaria after she was born, and my aunt couldn’t bear the pain,” Rathore told IANS.

“It’s an unimaginable pain not to be able to save your own baby, which is one of the reasons why I decided I should help women,” she said.

Rathore has helped over 100 women in her district in delivering healthy babies over the last three years that she has been working as an ASHA.

“It makes me extremely happy looking at women living in the remotest parts of the country with not much money to focus on their health giving birth to healthy children.

“Even though it means that we work an average of 12 hours each day, taking health surveys, carrying out polio drives, assisting pregnant women from the district I live in — right from medical checkups during pregnancy, to the delivery, then getting the baby all the vaccinations, and in the end receiving only about Rs 1,500 for a month.”

Rathore said that every woman she works with “becomes family to me, even if they need me at 3 a. m., I’m there.”

For many Indian villages where hospitals aren’t accessible easily, 860,000 ASHAs across the country (according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2014) are the only ray of hope in providing medical assistance to thousands of people, and have been working extensively on eliminating polio and malnutrition among infants.

Making sacrifices every day to build a healthier society, these women find it hard to even make ends meet, earning a paltry sum for their services. Over 15,000 ASHAs from Karnataka staged a protest last month at Freedom Park in the heart of the city for a better remuneration from the state so that they could live with dignity.

Rathore, like many other ASHAs, barely sleeps, as calls for help keep coming in from pregnant women round the clock, after a long day of delivering polio vaccines or conducting health surveys. Many a time, she can’t leave her two-year-old girl, Lakshmi, behind at home and takes her along.

“Sometimes, I feel I’m raising my child within clinics with my husband not being at home all the time. But I am glad she’s growing up learning to be empathetic, knowing that as humans we must be able to help one another without any hesitation,” said Rathore with a smile.

ASHAs take pride that they’ve managed to get their communities talking about health and hygiene.

“We are overwhelmed to see people in villages pay attention to sanitation and building their toilets and purifying their water, which they earlier didn’t care much for. These are very important when we talk about health,” Rathore explained.

With every right to quit their difficult job, the women say they continue on because the power to be a part of the birth of a healthy life is unparalleled.

Geetha B, 31, from Ballari district, has been an ASHA for nine years now. A mother of two boys, she takes the responsibility of overseeing the health needs of over 1,500 people in Hariginadone village in Ballari district seriously.

“My vision is always towards making the village a better place. I would have assisted at least 300 women in these nine years in their pregnancies and now I see the kids going to school within the village, children I would have helped while growing up to be healthy. It fills me with happiness each time.”

“Pregnancy comes with a hope for every family. Our job satisfaction comes from seeing their dreams come true, in helping India’s next generation grow up healthy.”

A mother of five children, 35-year-old Nagomi K. from Raichur district, about 400 km to the north of Bengaluru, has seen ASHAs help in transforming the villages in the district over the past 12 years that they have been working.

“In many villages, the women are blamed if something happens to the baby. They have to live with guilt that it was their fault that the baby was born prematurely,” Nagomi told IANS.

With their constant visits to the villagers’ homes for checkups, men also tend to learn from them about their wives’ health, which doesn’t happen in healthcare centres, where the men are just asked to wait in the waiting rooms, she said.

“Even though many don’t recognise the work we do, we are trying to act as bridges involving both man and a woman when it comes to a pregnancy, and having villagers lead better lives in general with better health.”

“A lot of times I assist women who cannot even afford a strip of medicine. That’s when I give them whatever money I have so that the health of the community is never compromised,” Nagomi said.

As Karnataka State ASHA Workers’ Association Secretary D. Nagalakshmi puts it, “These women are the lifelines for our country in letting those who cannot access medical help get every kind of support. They must be credited with raising a majority of India’s next generation.”

Each of the 37,000 ASHAs in Karnataka are working despite severe hardships and have some moving stories to tell, but they don’t hesitate to make any sacrifice in building a healthier country, she said.

India ranks 131 among 188 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) 2016 released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). India was placed behind countries like Gabon (109), Egypt (111), Indonesia (113), South Africa (119) and Iraq (121) among others. The government is working towards improving this rating by creating competition between states to perform better on key social indicators like infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate and life expectancy.

IANS

Health

India will start vaccination only after expert nod: PM seeks suggestions

The samples tested up to December 3 is 14,47,27,749 including 11,70,102 tested on Thursday, said the Indian Council of Medical Research.

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Vaccine Covid

New Delhi : Addressing an all-party meeting on Covid vaccines delivery and distribution, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that state governments’ advise will be sought on the matter as to who all will get the inoculation first, and urged political leaders to write in their suggestions.

“Experts believe that the vaccines will be ready in few weeks, and Indian scientist are very confident of developing them,” Modi said.

Public health will be top priority for the government as pricing of the vaccines are concerned, he said adding that the vaccination process will start only after the experts give nod.

Government has suggested first vaccination for frontline Covid warriors and health workers to get vaccinated first.

The all-party meeting was called for suggestions for feedback on the progress made so far and was attended by all political parties in Parliament.

The Prime Minister had earlier interacted with team of developers and visited three cities on Saturday to conduct an extensive review of the vaccine development and manufacturing process, going to the Zydus Biotech Park in Ahmedabad, the Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad and the Serum Institute of India in Pune.

With 36,595 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, India’s overall tally increased to 95,71,559 on Friday, as 540 more fatalities took the Covid-19 toll to 1,39,188, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said.

India witnessed a 3% rise in fresh cases and 2.7 rise in deaths since Thursday.

Currently, there are 4,16,082 active cases, whereas 90,16,289 patients have been discharged so far, including 42,916 discharged in the past 24 hours.

The recovery rate stands at 94.2 per cent and fatality at 1.45 as per cent, the Ministry said.

The samples tested up to December 3 is 14,47,27,749 including 11,70,102 tested on Thursday, said the Indian Council of Medical Research.

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AIIMS Director Pins Hopes On Five Covid-19 Vaccine Candidates

At least one locally-tested vaccine could get emergency use authorisation by the end of this month or early 2021, Dr Guleria says.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria on Thursday pinned his hopes on the five Covid-19 vaccine candidates which are in advanced stages of clinical trial in India, stating they are logistically feasible for distribution in both urban and rural areas.

His assertion comes amid Pfizer-BioNTech’s anti-coronavirus vaccine getting emergency clearance in the UK, paving the way for mass vaccinations against the deadly novel coronavirus from as early as next week.

Dr Guleria expressed hope that by the end of this month or early next month, at least one of the five vaccines being locally-tested should get emergency use authorisation from the drug regulator to be administered to the public starting with priority groups.

According to sources, global pharma giant Pfizer had talks with the Indian government late August, but since then there has been no development.

During a briefing last month, NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul, who also heads the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration, said that sufficient doses of the Pfizer vaccine as required for the Indian population will not be available but the government is examining the possibilities and will work out a strategy (for its procurement and distribution) in case the vaccine gets regulatory approvals.

The requirement of extremely low temperature of -70 degree Celsius for storing the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer poses a big challenge for its delivery in a developing nation like India, especially in its smaller towns and rural areas where maintaining such cold chain facilities would be very difficult, Guleria said.

“Five vaccine candidates are in advanced stages of clinical trial in India and no significant serious adverse effects have been seen so far. Also, they are logistically feasible for distribution in a large country like India, both in its urban and rural parts.

“Hopefully, by the end of this month or early next month, at least one of them should get emergency authorisation from the Indian drug regulator for its distribution among Indian population,” he said.

The five vaccines are under different phases of clinical trials in India with the Serum Institute of India conducting phase-3 trial of the Oxford-Astrazeneca Covid-19 vaccine, while the indigenously developed vaccine by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR has already started the phase-3 clinical trial.

Another indigenously-developed vaccine by Zydus Cadila has also completed phase -2 clinical trial in the country.

Dr Reddy’s Laboratories and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) on Tuesday announced the start of adaptive phase 2 and 3 clinical trials for Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V in India.

Also, Biological E. Ltd has started early phase 1 and 2 human trials of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate.

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Criminal networks could try to sell fake COVID vaccines physically and on internet, warns Interpol

The Interpol has asked police organisations to ensure “the safety of the supply chain” and said “identifying illicit websites selling fake products will be essential”.

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Vaccine

New Delhi, December 3: The Interpol has warned law enforcement agencies across the globe that organised criminal networks could try to advertise and sell fake COVID-19 vaccines physically and on the internet.

In an Orange notice issued to all 194 member countries on Wednesday, the Lyon-based international police cooperation body warned agencies to prepare for potential criminal activity in relation to “the falsification, theft and illegal advertising of COVID-19 and flu vaccines”.

“It also includes examples of crimes where individuals have been advertising, selling and administering fake vaccines,” a statement from the Interpol said.

The Interpol issues an Orange notice to warn of an event, a person, an object or a process representing a serious and imminent threat to public safety.

The CBI, which is the national central bureau for India, is tasked with coordination with the Interpol.

The warning came on the day the UK became the first Western nation to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, vaulting past the US and the European Union in the race to approve a vaccine.

The Interpol has asked police organisations to ensure “the safety of the supply chain” and said “identifying illicit websites selling fake products will be essential”.

“Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives,” Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock said in a statement.

“It is essential that law enforcement is as prepared as possible for what will be an onslaught of all types of criminal activity linked to the COVID-19 vaccine, which is why INTERPOL has issued this global warning,” the official said.

The Interpol cybercrime unit has analysed that of 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, around 1,700 contained cyber threats, especially phishing and spamming malware making such operators even more potent of causing financial and health harms.

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