Every year, hundreds of lives are been claimed by Japanese Encephalitis (JE) in Assam floods.
Japanese Encephalitis is a vector-borne disease caused by the virus spread by Culex Mosquito. The disease has no comprehensive treatment and can either turn fatal or cause permanent disability among the victims.
In 2016, Assam faced an acute shortage of vaccines that offer protection against Japanese encephalitis (JE) attacks.
To fight the menace, the state government of Assam has resorted to providing anti-encephalitis vaccines free of cost this year. Several pilot vaccination projects are currently running in four districts of the state.
However, a rumor was spread among the people of minority dominated areas, especially in lower Assam, that the government was providing sterility injections in the name of JE vaccines in minority dominated areas so that their next generation cannot produce kids. This greatly hampered the projects.
Assam has one of the highest numbers of minority-dominated regions and unfortunately these regions are prone to Japanese encephalitis. The spread of this rumour across the state badly effected the ongoing vaccination program. Even vaccination teams were manhandled and harassed in several rural areas.
While in most of the minority areas the low turnout for vaccination remains, south Salmara district of Assam showed a remarkable response.
In this small district, a young IAS officer is silently winning the confidence of people. He not only motivated them to take the vaccines but also encouraged them to visit vaccination camps and educated them about basic health issues.
Meet 31 year old Anbamuthan MP – the sub-divisional officer of south Salmara who is burning midnight oil to increase the vaccination cover in the area by conducting awareness programmes in front of village masjids.
His target is to complete the vaccination process before monsoons hit this part of the country – which is also the time when Japanese Encephalitis starts attacking.
He ideally initiates talks with the Maulana or Imam of the Masjid, then holds Masjid courtyard meetings where the Maulana calls the villagers and explains them from the teachings of Islam on how they should not believe in rumours and be misled.
A former officer in the Indian army, Anbamuthan is holding at least five camps in the village every day. His out of the box idea has ensured that unlike other areas where the minority turnout was low, members of the Muslim community come to take the vaccine in his division. He says he is using his army expertise to break the bureaucratic barriers and befriend locals to understand and attend their problems.
Currently, he is making a difference in the lives of people in this sleepy sub division. “I have spent six years in the Indian Army before joining civil service. I was trained in the army on how to act when rumours are spread and how to kill a rumour by connecting to local people, and that has helped me. The first thing I did was to take the vaccine myself in front of the public. This reassured them,” said Anbamuthan, speaking to The Logical Indian.
Anbamuthan, 2014 batch IAS officer, hailing from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, graduated in physics honours from Ramakrishna Mission.
Just before joining IAS, he served as a Major in the Indian Army (infantry) from 2005 -2011. He was also awarded a Sena Medal for gallantry in 2010 for successful operations against terrorist groups.
He left the army to get into civil services so as to be involved at the cutting edge of development and upliftment of the poor. “Ever since he has taken charge, people in South Salmara are very happy with the type of work he is doing. He is not like the regular bureaucrats we have seen. His office is open to the general public and he talks less and works more. He himself leads from the front. It was very important for someone to make an outreach so that the rumour mongering could be stopped,” said Rezaul Karim Sarkar, the General Secretary of All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU).
“I am quite hopeful about meeting the target regarding completion of vaccination in my district,” says Anbamuttan.
The Logical Indian appreciates the efforts undertaken by IAS Anbamuthan to rid the Assam flood victims of Japanese Encephalitis. His desire to uplift the lives of the neglected should be taken as an example and we hope that many more such people come forward to take similar initiatives.