Tag Archives: Disease

Suvita’s Solution to Mass Vaccinations Involves Gossip

(Featured Image: Pippa Ranger, Innovation Advisor, DFID)

In the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic, vaccination is a hot topic globally. In America, 400,000 people have died. We still don’t have a uniform understanding of the efficacy, distribution, availability, and side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Thankfully our 46th President, Joseph R. Biden has signed several executive orders including a 100-day mask mandate, to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up vaccine production, mount a vaccination campaign and expand testing and treatment. While we struggle to rid some people of their vaccine hesitancy in the US, countries with less robust economies, have problems with logistics. 

Vaccines are available but children are not getting vaccinated against communicable diseases like polio, mumps, measles, and rubella. The majority of the world’s undervaccinated children are in India (about 10 million each year). A child dies in India every 4 minutes from a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine.

What an appalling loss of human life in the 21st century! The government of India is aware of this problem, and they have vaccines but local health departments in rural and semi-urban India need assistance streamlining access to children. As a medical student at LTMMC, we went on vaccination drives to the Dharavi slums, but door to door vaccination, although effective, is very labor-intensive and may not be feasible because of the lack of manpower and portability of temperature-sensitive vaccines. WHO is encouraging think tanks to come up with innovative solutions. 

Last week, I talked to Varsha Venugopal who is the point person in the United Kingdom for Suvita, a non-profit organization.

Suvita came up with a practical solution brainstorming with a network of young like-minded affiliates. What if they used the most accessible communication device, a cell phone, to solve this problem? Team Suvita recognized that most families in India have at least one cell phone. If they could send an SMS reminder to the parents to take their kids for immunization, they would improve compliance.

Prevent disease! Save lives!

But to make the message more effective, they went one step further. They based their policy and procedures on a Nobel prize-winning work of Abhijit Banerjee, who received 2019 The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.”

It employed the idea of using the so-called “village gossip” or euphemistically speaking, an ambassador to influence human behavior. Having them send personalized SMS reminders to caregivers, informing them when their child is due for a vaccination, worked. Not only did this approach reduce the workload of individual health care workers, but emerging evidence also suggests that a combination of both these methods is more effective and more cost-effective than either in isolation.

Mother and child in Saran district, Bihar

So far 200,000 parents have enrolled in Suvita”s SMS program. Their staff has achieved the following milestones: a signed Memorandum of Understanding with the Maharashtra Family Welfare Bureau and partnerships with Maharashtra and Bihar state governments. There are 100,000 eligible children in the Saran district of Bihar. They plan to reach at least 50,000 eligible children in 2021. Scaling up SMS reminders program starting with 2 districts in Maharashtra and the whole of Saran district over the course of 2021.

Like all wonderful projects, Suvita’s efforts have faced a few challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has affected access to ambassadors and parents. As the program expands, there will be a need for additional funds for staff workers and carefully selected volunteer immunization ambassadors. Measures are in place to protect the personal information of users, thereby limiting the risk of a data breach and exposure of personal information to data-hungry merchants.

If Suvita takes appropriate security precautions and the model thrives, this nudge technique can be expanded to many health, wellness, education, and safety programs. It’s wonderful to harness the self-proclaimed busybodies/gossips for social and economic betterment.

I would like to share an interesting personal anecdote to illustrate Suvita’s role model with you. While writing this article, I was explaining the concept of vaccination to a ten-year-old. After three rounds of easy-to-understand information about the basic concept of vaccination, he had a question. He said: “ Grandma, are you stating a fact, or are you telling me a story?” I was amazed at his query. He questioned my source because I was not in his “peer” group but if the same information would have come from his friend or known social media platform, he would have accepted it! 


Monita Soni is a pathologist. She has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

Letters to the Editor: 2/1/2021

Dear India Currents,

The new year brings new hope in the fight to end Alzheimer’s.

As our nation renews its collective focus to end Alzheimer’s, this year can bring hope and optimism to the millions of American families affected by this disease.  2020 was a year of great uncertainty that saw those affected by Alzheimer’s at greater risk than ever before, but 2021 represents a time to be optimistic with the Inauguration of Biden’s Presidency on Jan 20th

My motivation to be a part of this movement comes from my mother who passed away just before the holidays. We are still mourning her loss while trying to overcome our frustration on the late diagnosis of Alzheimer’s which caused irreversible damage. We had to battle with the healthcare systems both in the US and India to find out the cause for her rapidly deteriorating mental faculties. The primary care physician’s timely diagnosis would have helped us prepare for what to expect and actively work on improving her condition. 

With a new Administration and a new Congress, we have new opportunities to address Alzheimer’s as a public health crisis – not just to develop a disease-altering treatment, but also to improve the quality of health care for current and future dementia patients.

More than 95% of individuals with dementia have one or more other chronic conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes.  A person with dementia is 4.4 times more likely to have six or more other chronic conditions than someone without dementia.  Health care utilization is significantly higher among seniors with dementia than among seniors without dementia: the annual hospitalization rate is twice as high; the use of skilled nursing facilities is nearly four times higher.  In addition, on average, a senior with dementia will visit the emergency room more than once each year.

Please join me in thanking Ro Khanna for leading in the fight to end Alzheimer’s and improve care and support for those affected. 

Deepak Rama


If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact editor@indiacurrents.com with a submission or note. 

What Would My Mother Say to Donald Trump?

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic began, I have been thinking of my mother. If ever there was a person who was ready for an epidemic, it was my mother. She was the FDA and the CDC combined. Her advice on health matters was prescient. Fearing cancer, she refused to use artificial colorings in food even though the FDA would not study and ban some for six decades. She suspected that fats like margarine, which were solid at room temperature, would stick inside you. When you consider that she was raising children in India in the nineteen-fifties you have to marvel at her audacity.  

Yet she was a middle-class woman with no college education. Not for lack of ambition, mind you, but because women of her generation were not even expected to finish high school. She had worked alongside Anglo Indian girls at the General Post Office in Mumbai during the Second World War however and felt nostalgic for her life as a working woman.

One of my earliest memories is of being taken to the family doctor because she thought one of my legs looked shorter than the other and suspected polio. We lived in the old part of Nagpur then, where stones were covered in saffron paint and worshipped as Gods. Where women wearing nine-yard saris carried offerings of oil to the temple to appease the goddess who had scourged their children with smallpox. The women did not know science, my mother said, so they catered to andhashraddha, blind belief. She was so wary of superstition that she refused to keep the vatasavitri fast she was expected to observe as a Hindu woman in order to obtain the same husband for the next seven incarnations. 

I can see her now, sitting on the doorstep and reading Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare, the only mother I knew to do so. Dr. Spock was her bible and her Bhagavad Gita. Dr. Benjamin Spock and Dr. Jonas Salk were household names in our family.   

Sarita Sarvate’s mother

My mother was devoted to science because she lived in a world teetering on the edge of calamity. In his thirties, my father had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and had to move his family from Mumbai to his hometown of Nagpur in case he needed help from his brothers. My father’s plate and eating utensils were kept separate, he never hugged or kissed me, he lay in his cot, resting. His chest X-Rays were stored in a locked trunk and the word TB was never uttered in my earshot, yet I sensed death in the air. Streptomycin, the cure for tuberculosis, was either around the corner or had recently been invented, but not commonplace in India, I suspect. I recall being taken by an aunt to a series of TB-themed Bollywood movies, similar to the cancer movies of a later era in Hollywood. I would cry at the imminent death of the hero or the heroine in these movies, not realizing that the films allowed me much needed catharsis. 

Dangers lurked everywhere. Cholera, typhoid, and malaria were rampant. I had to drop out of preschool because of measles.

After my father recovered, my infant brother was taken ill with diphtheria in the middle of the night and carried to the hospital in a rickshaw by my mother. 

Upon her return, she made a bonfire in the yard and threw into it her clothes, including the best sari she had worn to the hospital. It was the only sure method of sterilization she knew, since alternatives like clothes washers and powerful detergents were not accessible to her.  

Health and hygiene were never far from my parent’s minds. So that when the Nagpur Improvement Trust began to develop land on the outskirts of town, my mother withdrew from her post office savings account the money she had saved from her job in Mumbai and made the down payment. Soon we moved to our new house with running water – cold, not hot – and a flush latrine and the quality of our life made a quantum leap. 

Slowly, India began to catch up with my mother’s ideas. Newly independent after one hundred and fifty years of British rule, the country aimed to build a public health system along the lines of Europe. Public health workers began to come to our door every month to ask if anyone had a fever and if the answer was yes, to offer pills. This was how malaria was eradicated in our region. Later, one of my aunts began working as a public health worker as well, distributing contraceptives to women in remote villages.  

Our community celebrated all of the Hindu rites and rituals while maintaining a firm belief in medicine and science. Thousands of cities and towns like mine thrived across the nation. No wonder then that India began to nurture one of the largest workforces trained in science, medicine, and engineering in the world.  

My mother is long gone from this earth. But I wonder what she would say if she learned that many citizens of the nation of Dr. Spock are denying vaccines and science today. What would she say if she discovered that there does not exist a nationwide public health infrastructure capable of coping with COVID-19 in Dr. Spock’s America? What would she say if she learned that not only is there no such system along the lines of what many European nations have and what India and other developing countries have always aspired to, but that many Americans do not even expect to have it? 

Would she laugh at the jokes many Indians are posting on social media about Americans belonging to the flat earth society?  

Or would she feel incredibly sad?   

Would she be shocked that the US has recorded the highest number of COVID-19 deaths?

What would she say if she learned that in defiance of medical advice, the president of the nation of Dr. Spock and Dr. Salk refuses to wear a mask? That he has suggested that people should drink Lysol to cure COVID19?  Or that they should shine ultraviolet light on their inner organs?  

Would she curl her lips and ask if Donald Trump studied any science in school at all? 

Sarita Sarvate has written op-ed pieces for the Los Angeles Times, the Oakland Tribune, the San Jose Mercury News, the Baltimore Sun, and Salon.com among other publications and has written her Last Word column for India Currents for twenty-five years.  


Featured image is of Sarita Sarvate’s Parents. 

Indian Girls Are Making Masks Global

COVID-19 isn’t a test of whether we can fend for ourselves. Rather, it’s the story of those who choose to fight for the rest of us. And that’s precisely what a hundred young girls from Uttarakhand, India are trying to do — but they need your support. 

Since the coronavirus was declared a Public Health Emergency in January, countless medical facilities have struggled to accommodate the growing need for surgical masks. Hoarding, misinformation, and price gouging have all contributed to the scarcity of masks in hospitals. And while masks should be a priority for all members of society, it’s absolutely critical for medical professionals and sanitation workers, who are directly exposed to infected patients on a daily basis for hours at end. A single mask could break a chain of infections and hospitalizations before it even begins. According to the Mayo Clinic, masks have proven to filter out COVID-19 particles, thus protecting you from those infected but also allowing victims of the coronavirus to avoid infecting others. These girls know what’s at stake. 

That’s why Uttarakhand’s students, with the support of the non-profit organization Educate Girls Globally, have pledged to sew fabric masks and distribute them among communities in need. With nothing but their grit and their sewing machines, they have already brought a nascent change to their locale by providing a nearby hospital as well as the Uttarakhand Police Department with more than one thousand cloth masks. And that was all in a month’s work!

It was after a representative from Educate Girls Globally reached out to me that I realized the need more resources, attention, and support from the rest of the world. At a time when healthcare professionals are being forced to reuse existing masks, it’s crucial to encourage public movements that make more masks available. With the help of Educate Girls Globally, we started a GoFundMe account in hopes of scaling this endeavor to the international level. 

These funds will allow the girls to purchase additional materials, as well as transport these masks to healthcare facilities. More than twenty hospitals in the United States desperately need masks  — both  homemade and surgical — to protect caregivers, hospital visitors, and volunteers

These empowered young girls from Uttarakhand want to raise $25,000 to distribute more than 50,000 high-quality fabric masks to hospitals in the United States. They tell a story of perseverance amid immense adversity and fear. 

With your small financial contribution, we can give this story the ending it deserves.

To donate, click here.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the youth editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

In the “Age of the Coronavirus” – A Reflection

I sipped my morning coffee and browsed through the news, social media and emails. Spain declared an emergency and locked down.  The situation was still dire in Italy. Testing was woefully inadequate in the US and published numbers were the tip of the iceberg.  Toilet paper, cleaning supplies and frozen food shelves could not be restocked fast enough in supermarkets and grocery stores across the country to keep up with the wave of panic buying.

Sigh. 

Three other items caught my eye.  

The Times had a heartwarming story about how Italians nationwide – under lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus – took to singing and playing musical instruments from their balconies and rooftops, with “piano chords, trumpet blasts, violin serenades and even the clanging of pots and pans” spilling from people’s homes” to show that they would get past this together, and to thank all the medical personnel on the front lines fighting the spread of the virus.

A good friend in Switzerland sent me a WhatsApp message.  “People have been hoarding toilet paper here,” she said, “empty shelves.” She also forwarded a video (it likely took multiple forwards to get to me) showing a young man in a coffee shop paying for his coffee with single sheets of toilet paper, and the barista asking for one more sheet, as Abba’s classic song plays in the background.  Money, money, money, must be funny, in the rich man’s world.

And then I saw this post on the social networking platform for local communities, Nextdoor:

“I’d like to take a moment to reflect on our current situation by bringing up a quote from the author C.S. Lewis.  It’s from an essay titled “On Living in an Atomic Age”. I’ll let Lewis say what he says best:

‘In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation…

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.’

“On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays”

Lewis wrote these words 72 years ago.  We must heed his advice today. Let’s not panic. Let’s be sensible. Let’s use common sense. Let’s adopt common courtesy. Let’s pull together towards a common cause.

Carefully follow the simple, sensible advice of healthcare professionals. Wash your hands, Maintain social distance. Stay indoors and avoid contact with others as much as you can. Be prepared to sacrifice some of your needs for the common good.  It’s not just for you. It’s for everyone around you, and for everyone around them.

Together, we will eventually emerge victorious from the “Age of the Coronavirus.”

Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. 


With gratitude to Joel Filipe for the use of his beautiful photograph from Unsplash.com

India Closes Borders: Travel Advisory Issued

The recommendations of the Committee of Secretaries chaired by Chairpersonship of Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health &Family Welfare. Sh. Hardeep S. Puri, Minister of Civil Aviation, Dr. S. Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs, Sh. Nityananda Rai, Minister of State for Home, Shri Mansukh Mandaviya, Minister of State (I/c), Ministry of Shipping, Chemicals and Fertilisers and Sh. Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Minister of State, Health &Family Welfare were placed before Group of Ministers. After detailed deliberations on preventive measures, actions taken and preparedness for Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), the GoM took the following decisions: 

  •  All existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/International Organizations, employment, project
    visas, stand suspended till 15th April 2020. This will come into effect from 1200 GMT on 13th March 2020 at the port of departure.
  • Visa free travel facility granted to OCI card holders is kept in abeyance till April 15th 2020. This will come into effect from 1200 GMT on 13th March 2020 at the port of departure.
  • Any foreign national who intends to travel to India for compelling reason may contact the nearest Indian Mission.
  • All incoming travellers, including Indian nationals, arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after 15th February, 2020 shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days. This will come into effect from 1200 GMT on 13th March 2020 at the port of departure.
  •  Incoming travellers, including Indian nationals, are advised to avoid non-essential travel and are informed that they can be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days on their arrival in India.
  • Indian nationals are strongly advised to avoid all non-essential travel abroad. On their return, they can be subjected to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.
  •  International traffic through land borders will be restricted to Designated check posts with robust screening facilities. These will be notified separately by M/o Home Affairs.
  •  Provision for testing primarily for students/compassionate cases in Italy to be made and collection for samples to be organized accordingly. Those tested negative will be allowed to travel and will be quarantined on arrival in India for 14 days.

Originally Posted On: 11 MAR 2020 10:18PM by PIB Delhi


Image can be found here.