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Connecting NGOs with UNICEF to vaccinate against disease

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13/01/2017

Japanese encephalitis (JE) is a disease spread through mosquito bites. Symptoms usually take 5-15 days to develop and include fever, headache, vomiting, confusion, and difficulty moving. Symptoms that develop later include swelling around the brain and coma. JE is a serious disease that may cause death.

Malkangiri is in the Odisha province of India

Upon hearing that over one hundred children had died of Japanese Encephalitis (JE) in Malkangiri, Odisha, I travelled to the village where I was joined by Fr. Nicholas, SVD. We stayed with the SABS sisters at Deepti Convent.  We visited two villages and the government hospital, accompanied by Mr. Dhansyam, a tribal leader, to explore the situation.

Sisters of the Adoration of the
Blessed Sacrament (SABS)
hosted St Annmary during her visit

We learned that there had been between 400-500 deaths in the villages, many of them children. Some families had lost up to five of their children to the disease. A mosquito net distribution drive was unsuccessful in curbing the spread of JE. Media reports of the deaths being caused by the children eating Bada Chakunda seed, a plant grown locally were dismissed by the local people as not true. In fact, the villagers were mystified by the cause of the outbreak, pointing out that despite a healthy, nutritious diet and clean environment, children were dying, whereas nearby poorer villages with less sanitary conditions seemed to be unaffected.
 

The bean-like seeds of the bada
chakunda plant contain a toxin
called anthroquinone,
which some had said caused
the deaths

The Catholic Church and other denomination churches organized a night vigil and prayed for the families. Despite advice not to visit the infected villages,  our team  proceeded with our mission. We were also able to convince the two communities of SABS Sisters to join us in our visits to the villages and the hospital. Fr. Nicholas recorded the peoples’ stories as they shared their struggles with us and prepared the local people for a press conference in BBSR.

 

The UNICEF office in Hyderabad

Sister Elsa Muttathu, PBVM suggested we contact Mr. Sonikutty George, who works with UNICEF in Hyderabad. Through him we made contact with the local NGOs in Malkangiri. However, we were unable to meet them so we requested that the sisters could follow up the local cases.

Since our visit to Malkangiri, Fr. Nicholas has managed to connect with the UNICEF in BBSR. The good news is that the whole of the  Malkangiri district has been given vaccination for JE and  no further deaths have been  reported.

I feel happy that we were instrumental in linking groups at local and regional levels to save lives.

Annmary Andrews, PBVM

Categories: Social and Pastoral, Healthcare and Healing, Latest News