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Vaccination of manual scavengers must be prioritised

Synopsis:  The government is focussing on the vaccination of frontline sanitation workers. However, the most vulnerable among them, Manual scavengers, did not gethe attention they deserve. 

Introduction 

India is far behind in understanding sanitation workers and their different categories. Manual scavengers belong to the lowest strata of unprotected sanitation workers.

Many people in India believe that manual scavenging is already eliminated since it is legally banned. However, the ground reality is very different.

  • Sanitation workers can be categorized into Faecal sludge handlers, Sewage treatment plant sanitation workers, Toilet sanitation workers, public transportation site sanitation workers (railway, roads), Sewer and drain sanitation workers, Sanitation-waste intersection workers, Etc.
  • Manual Scavengers are workers discarding human excreta manually, in any form.

The risk involved in septic cleaning among manual scavengers is the highest. One sanitation worker dies every five days. Waste recovery sanitation workers perform the work of manual scavenging as they come in regular contact with unprotected bio-medical waste, animal faeces.

Why sanitation workers should be included in priority population for vaccines?

Vaccination of sanitation workers should be prioritized due to following reasons:

  • First, several laws banning this practice are not working properly on the ground. Sewer deaths continue to happen. Caste and economics have a role to play in the deprivation.
  • Second, the absence of a policy for the protection of the sanitation workers resulted in the loss of many lives during the initial days of the pandemic. These cases are not even mentioned in the records of the National Commission of the Safai Karmachari (NCSK).  The Safai KarmacharI Andolan (SKA) has had far better data.
  • Third, there is no social security, no accountability in the actual expenses of the rehabilitation schemes. Even no definite provision for healthcare or pension is provided.
  • Fourth, the representation of sanitation workers is not involved during creation of policies for them. 
  • Fifth, sanitation workers are prone to long-term diseases. In many cases, they don’t even live till the age of retirement. Their children suffer from malnutrition, TB, and cholera because of their habitation around the waste generated by the cities. 
  • Lastly, the sanitation workers worked full time to ensure safety for the people during the pandemic. 

Way forward

The government must urgently prioritize vaccination for manual scavengers without giving the argument that they have already developed “herd immunity”.

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