Over 50 eminent Urdu editors from Lucknow and Delhi met along with academia and health professionals today at a conference organized by UNICEF and Shikhar, an NGO, to discuss different ways for strengthening immunization program in Uttar Pradesh.
The conference is a part of UNICEF's efforts to engage with the Urdu media especially to reach out to the marginalized and the minority communities among whom immunization coverage is lower than the national average of 61 per cent. Uttar Pradesh has 52.7 percent Routine Immunization coverage. The Lucknow Urdu Media Roundtable is second in the series, the first of which was held in Delhi in April 2014.
"The immunization program of UP is the largest in the country in terms of the number of children to be reached, the number of vaccines used and the number of immunization sessions conducted. In UP alone about 500,000 sessions of routine immunization are held to reach 5.5 million children every year," said Niloufar Pourzand, Chief of Field Office, UNICEF UP, addressing the gathering.
Dwelling on the factors leading to low immunization, Prof. Wahajuddin Alvi, Head, Department of Urdu, Jamia Milia Islamia University, said superstitions regarding vaccinations, lack of awareness, fear about side effects of vaccines, and social practices are among the major challenges to achieving the goal.
While deliberating on this issue, participants also discussed the challenges regarding the quality of services reaching hard-to-reach and minority communities.
Emphasizing on the need to expand immunization coverage, Dr Satish Gupta, Health Specialist, UNICEF said though India has one of the largest immunization programs in the world, in terms of number of children covered and geographical reach, it still reports deaths of about 1.4 million under-five children annually, largely from preventable diseases such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, diarrhoea, and measles."
Quoting the analysis of media reports on health issues and routine immunization in Urdu media, Prof Akhtrul Wasay, Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities said that "a significant surge in the media reportage on RI issues is observed in Urdu media following the conference in April 2014 with the Urdu editors. The engagement resulted in close to 125 stories on RI during April-September this year."
"The Government of UP has been working intensively to improve routine immunization coverage in the state, like better micro-plans to ensure that all children can be reached', said Dr. A. P. Chaturvedi, State EPI Officer.
Participants agreed that Urdu media houses need to regularly come out with news reports and editorials on immunization. Inadequate number of health journalists and their lack of in-depth knowledge on the issue were identified as main deterrents in ensuring coverage of such topics.
By putting a colorful imprint of their hand on a large canvas, all participants pledged their support to the cause of routine immunization.
Besides local eminent media personnel, Mrs. Rama Arun of Doordarshan, Mr. Rahul Dev of Live TV, Prof R K Suri of Jamia Milia Islamia, Dr. Tabassum Shahab of Aligarh Muslim University and famous Radio Jockey Simran Kohli also attended the conference.