Vaccine hesitancy among the public is one of the largest barriers that the country has had to cross to achieve 100 crore jabs. There have been cases where people have developed complications even after getting vaccinated, and some have even lost their lives, spreading fear in the community. But foot soldiers like Alka have been the vital connection between the community and healthcare professionals.
Alka has been associated with Disha Mahila Bahuddeshiya Sanstha (DMBS) for the past 3 years. She works as a co-ordinator of Aarogya Gats in a basti (settlement) of casual workers, self-employed persons, and sex workers. She oversees health camps in the community and supports with documentation for social protection schemes like Aadhar Card, Ration Card, and PAN Card among others.
Alka recalls, “Convincing people to get vaccinated was a huge task since there was a lot of fear. I had to convince a lot of people, not only those getting vaccinated but also medical professionals. People in the basti were even reluctant to let medical professionals enter since they did not want anyone from the “outside” to spread the virus within the community.” Alka works with sex workers and domestic workers. First, she had to convince domestic workers to get vaccinated. For that, she approached their employers and asked them to implore the particular worker to get vaccinated. On the other hand, she had to ask medical professionals to reserve some vaccines for a few domestic workers since most of them were busy earlier in the day and only got free after 2 PM in the afternoon. “So, I asked them to hold a vaccination camp for domestic workers from 3 PM to 5 OM daily. I asked 5-10 domestic workers to come for the vaccine daily”, she adds.
Other than vaccination, another area where Alka has worked is supporting the community’s access to the food grain distribution scheme. As most of the workers in the city are migrants, many do not possess a Ration card, or even if they do, it is based on their domicile in their native place. “Such documentation complicates the matter further. If their card is not from this area, we have to ask them to get a letter from their village authorities and submit it to the Collector’s office here. They get ration after a month”, she says. Proper identification of beneficiaries has been one of the greatest challenges that the PDS scheme suffers through, and that pitfall of the scheme was brought to light in the early days of the pandemic when migrant workers were seen begging for food grains. The announcement of the One Nation One Ration card aside, implementational challenges galore for effective food grain distribution. Alka has been instrumental in distributing masks and ration kits in the community whenever possible. “Whenever we used to get donations, I made sure that they reached the right person”, she says.
Individuals like Alka are making access to the most essential easily available to the most vulnerable. Amidst the crisis, Alka continued to work with these communities, visiting daily and supporting them.