India: Young volunteers help fight disease in flood-affected Mumbai

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Burenbayar Chanrav and Kyria Abrahams

MUMBAI, 15 August 2005 - Following the heavy flooding that recently hit Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra state in India, UNICEF is working with teams of student volunteers from local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in order to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

After a two-day training at the local UNICEF office, the volunteers - from Rotaract International and the Indian Red Cross Society - will begin work in Darukhana, the worst-affected area of Mumbai. Each of the 50 two-person teams plans to visit 50 households a day, reaching a total of 2,500 households daily.

The volunteers will distribute soap for hand-washing, a month's supply of chlorine tablets for water treatment, and oral rehydration salts. Most importantly, they will leave behind the message of good hygiene and how important it is for good health.

Joshua Chand, one of the 100 volunteers and Joint Director of Professional Services for Rotaract International, describes his experience in the training: "I was nervous at first but now I am geared up and ready to go and help the people with life-saving knowledge that we have obtained. Our club stands for helping others in need and we are happy we are joining hands with UNICEF."

Reaching out through partnership

Diseases such as leptospirosis or communicable diarrhoea could be spread during conditions left behind after the floods, which took place in late July. The training at UNICEF's Mumbai office equipped the volunteers with basic knowledge on prevention of communicable diseases and preparation of oral rehydration salts, for treatment of dehydration caused by diarrhoea.

UNICEF Programme Communication Officer Geeta Athreya, who conducted the sessions, instructed trainees to strongly advise people they meet on the importance of washing hands with soap and water after defecation and before handling food.

The Hindustan Lever company donated 100,000 bars of soap to UNICEF to assist with this effort. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai provided the oral rehydration salts and chlorine tablets for water treatment.

Chandra Ruia, who is with the local branch of the Indian Red Cross, is convinced that working in partnership is an effective way to reach the largest possible number of people. (Mumbai has a population of almost 15 million.)

"This is why we have decided to join up with UNICEF to reach out to people on cleanliness," said Ms. Ruia. "We are involving young student volunteers, who have the confidence, knowledge and the desire to reach out to the affected."

Ms. Ruia said the involvement of young people is important, "because they can reach out to the younger population and save lives."