On May 9, scores of women involved in a Neighbourhood Leader Program (NLP) brought their neighbours, relatives or friends' children to booths in Shorpur. They came sometimes carrying two and stringing five to six behind them, throughout the pulse polio immunisation day.

Little six-year-old Renuka did not want to be left behind; copying her mother Yellamma's actions, she got eight children into the booth. She isn't just tagging along; she even knows some of the do's and dont's of this effort. Seeing Renuka carrying a younger child I ask, "Has this one got the drops?" Renuka suitably admonishes me, "Only children below five years should be given drops, he is more than five." Then she chirps gaily, "I like doing this work because my mother is also doing this. If you do not give polio drops to children then they become physically handicapped. Their legs and arms become twisted. If you give them drops then they will be healthy."

As with Renuka, I was amazed to meet 12-year-old Mariappa. He is a special child, more than moderately affected, but full of life. Mariappa brought 20 children to the booth! He points to scores of curious children hopping around, "They all are my friends. I went to their houses and got them. I told them to take polio drops."

Picture: Lining up on immunisation day.

The women involved in the NLP program are volunteers. Most work as labourers, earning Rs. 20-25 a day. They are not paid a single rupee for this effort; instead they have to miss their workdays to volunteer for these activities. Ask Sreekamma, Bimbarayi, Vijaylakshmi or Yellamma why they do it, and a uniform response arrives. "Though we have forgone Rs. 25 today we do not feel bad for doing this kind of work." One noticeable factor is the complete absence of men in the pulse polio activities. Sreekama answers directly, "Men say this is the duty of women only. This talk of sharing work between men and women does not work. I love doing this work, so I do it." Sincerity shines in her eyes.

Shorpur is a pointer to all those wondering how to reach zero incidence of polio in the country. If similar meticulous planning and strategy is applied elsewhere in India the target can be met. Suresh Babu, Secretary of Action for Rural Reconstruction Movement (ARRM), Prabhakar, the tehsildar of Shorpur taluk, Dr. Patil from the Karnataka health department and Sukanya from UNICEF pore over a colourful map of Tintini village prepared by Gangadhar from ARRM.

Gangadhar explains the markings on the map; the wriggly lines identify roads, rivers, forests and border outposts in the village, temples, accessible polio booths, houses whose children who have taken the drops and those who haven't. The map clearly marks out the territories under the charge of each of neighbourhood leader.

For a country to be declared polio free, no case should be reported for three consecutive years. India now aims to achieve zero incidence in 2005."

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