When Munnibala Suman got on a bike for the first time in March, it wasn’t for fun. The 50-year-old health worker had been administering vaccines in the state of Bihar, India, for the past 30 years when a nationwide lockdown was announced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Suddenly many health workers found it difficult to travel, but Munnibala wasn’t deterred.Determined to make a difference, she learned how to ride a bicycle in just three days to be able to reach children and pregnant women with vaccines.
Even before COVID-19, health workers in many countries faced enormous obstacles to carry out their lifesaving work and vaccine coverage over the past decade has stalled. But the pandemic has made a challenging situation even worse – disrupting the delivery of immunization services and threatening to reverse hard-won progress in reaching children with essential vaccines. Approximately 80 million children under the age of 1 are now at increased risk of vaccine-preventable diseases in 68 countries, as of May 2020.
Deepika Shahi (not pictured), a community nurse in the north of Nepal, walks long hours to vaccinate children across the remote Mugum Karmarong municipality where villages are often far apart.
“For us community health workers, it means walking two to three hours between settlements to conduct these campaigns,” she says. “We also go door to door to counsel people on preventive measures. We’ve covered around 200 households this way on foot. It’s not easy, but we have to do it.”