WhatsApp-ening in India’s measles-rubella vaccine campaign? ☺️☺️☺️

It’s a Saturday night  and my phone memory is full again. Another 53 messages have come through from Uttarkhand, and then 37 more from Telangana. Scrolling through them is a rainbow of colour and activity with the bright clothes of women health workers blurring as my finger scrolls with the red and white dots of the campaign materials. My finger pauses on an image. A pharmacist has drawn an impressive cartoon of a family with a message about the campaign in the local language, Pahari. Already the cartoon has gone viral on local WhatsApp groups.

As materials in the various languages spoken in India are shared, it becomes apparent that having the campaign materials adapted to the local language, specifically in Urdu for Muslim faith leaders to enable them to reach underserved communities, is having a hugely positive impact on ensuring local community commitment to the measles-rubella vaccination campaign.

Further south in the state of Telangana pictures are coming in from meetings with prominent religious leaders who have agreed for all children in all religious institutions to be vaccinated. There’s lots of 👏👏👏👏👏👏

More photos come in: training workshops of posters being put up, of innovative stickers for school back packs being designed, orientation sessions for teachers, meetings in schools, community meetings; children’s hand drawn posters, child-led rallies and bus stops covered with measles-rubella vaccination campaign messages.

A mother holding a young baby sits opposite a health worker preparing a vaccination needle.
UNICEF VishwanathanA new campaign using WhatsApp aims to encourage Indian parents to have their children vaccinated against preventable childhood diseases. Some states are aiming for 95 per cent vaccination coverage.

From my home in Delhi, I travel across India and see the faces of the hardworking government health workers along with local celebrities and campaign champions coming together to support the vaccination campaign.

Past experience taught us from the first phase that social and digital media is a space where negative anti-vaccination messaging can pop up and that’s why special digital media materials, including for WhatsApp, have been developed, including fun GIFs with the campaign’s key messages translated in several languages.

Another video beeps in WhatsApp; it’s a group of 40 or so medical doctors taking a pledge and committing to support the campaign through their private practices. Then there are more faith leaders committing, more health worker training, more pictures of smiling child champions in school meetings ☺️☺️☺️  👍👍👍 coming in, along with messages of support for the campaign.

The countdown is on; just a few days before some states start their journey towards 95 per cent vaccination coverage #foreverychild against measles-rubella. The challenge will be to sustain the momentum offline and share the online messages more widely outside of WhatsApp, and on social media. UNICEF India, through its health and communication teams, will continue to work hard with World Health Organization colleagues to support the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare across India to communicate the importance of the measles-rubella vaccination campaign.


Stephanie Raison is a  UNICEF India Communication Specialist.


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