The Amitabh of Aligarh
The Big B may be the UNICEF goodwill ambassador for polio eradication in the country, but, at least in Aligarh, it is Sabiya Riyazuddin who is the real reason why they are free of polio
In February this year, India’s name was officially removed from the list of polio-endemic nations by the World Health Organization (WHO). Since 2011, the country has not reported a single case of polio. According to WHO, this is a huge achievement for a nation which, until 2009, made up for half or the polio cases reported across the world. While the presence of superstars such as Amitabh Bachchan as the campaign’s goodwill ambassador has majorly contributed a lot to polio awareness and benefits of vaccination, it is people like Sabiya Riyazuddin who have made all the difference to the cause.
Riyazuddin, a resident of Kela Nagar in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, is part of the Polio Social Mobilisation Network (SMNet) formed by UNICEF India in 2001. She has been working as a Community Mobilisation Coordinator (CMC) since 2008. “Seven years ago, a CMC first came to Kela Nagar and I loved what she did for the children here. I did not have any children then but I decided to do what she was doing for us,” she says over the telephone from Aligarh.
Riyazuddin soon received a call about a vacancy for the role. She then underwent a three day-long training wherein she was taught about the polio eradication programme, its key message, how interpersonal communication is conducted and how records are maintained.
Like other local CMCs, Riyazuddin knows Aligarh and its people well, which makes it easier for her to communicate with them. She says most families are initially hesitant to vaccinate their children due to lack of knowledge. “When I initially started work as a CMC, I visited a family who had lost their child after being administered polio drops. It was a mere co-incidence, but they were under the misconception that this was due to the polio dose. They pushed and shoved me out of their home. I told them I was not there to talk about polio but to make friends with them. Two months later, they agreed to vaccinate their other children. Families are unaware about vaccination and its benefits. The first step is to tell them about it. I also tell them about other families who have vaccinated their children and how happy and healthy they are now,” she says. Now, the community looks forward to Riyazuddin’s visits and even notifies her of recent births in the area.
Riyazuddin also undertakes house-to-house and group meetings with mothers and draws up a comprehensive list of all the children under the age of five. She keeps track of newborns and expectant mothers and meets religious leaders and other influential people in the community to create awareness about polio. Riyazuddin is soft-spoken with a slightly raspy voice packed with confidence nonetheless. And she has much to be confident about. Just five years after she took up the job, Aligarhhas been polio-free. Married at a young age, Riyazuddin could not get educated. “But my mind is very fast,” she smiles.
Thanks to the support from her husband and family, she spends most of her day on field helping and creating awareness amongst the people of Aligarh. She says, “I am very punctual. After namaz, I cook for my family, send my daughter to school and either work on field or visit the office. I always plan ahead.”
How Aligarh got rid of polio
In the year, 2001, Aligarh saw 30 children afflicted with polio. The number fell to 9 in 2009. However, post 2010, till date, the area has not reported a single case of the disease