Sarojini Devi earns herself and her family two meals a day by selling magazines to people who stop their cars at traffic intersection in India's capital city. When she and her three-year-old daughter, who does impromptu acrobatic shows at the same place for a pittance, return to their shanty in southDelhi, she switches on the radio to listen to Bollywood songs. That is all her family can afford for entertainment after a day's hard work.
One evening, when Sarojini tuned in to one of her favourite programmes, she heard a 'radiowali didi' - the radio jockey - speaking to an expert on 'tika lagana' (immunization) and how vaccines could save lives of children.
She felt a tug at her heartstrings. Some time ago, Sarojini had lost her two-year-old son to measles, a disease that could have been prevented through vaccination.
"Until I heard it on radio, I never thought it was important to queue up for the child's vaccination, missing a day at work," she says remorsefully.
The burden of poverty forces families like that of Sarojini to make some harsh choices-to go for their daily wages, neglecting their own health and that of their children too.
Though India has one of the world's largest immunization programmes in terms of number of beneficiaries and geographical coverage, nearly 4,000 children die every day in the country largely due to vaccine-preventable diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea and measles.
A major chunk of these children are from the marginalized sections living in hard-to-reach areas that lack access to proper roads and essential services.
In order to reach out to these children, Unicef India has launched an initiative to promote immunization on radio in partnership with the Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI).
"As radio's reach is unmatched by any other media in India, we decided to use the platform of radio to disseminate messages about vaccines and the immunization schedules through news, talk shows, advertisements, quiz shows and other programmes," said Unicef's communication specialist Geetanjali Master.
A workshop for radio professionals was organised earlier this month to sensitise them about the importance of immunization and equip them with relevant information for programme innovations.
Over 40 radio jockeys and national programming heads of private FM radio stations took part in the workshop.
Radio Mirchi's RJ Naved, whose pranks on Mirchi Murga are hugely popular among listeners, said FM radio was not just about music and entertainment.
"Apart from playing Honey Singh's raps, RJs too can act responsibly and use the platform that radio gives them to take up social causes," he said.
Speaking on the initiative, AROI secretary general Uday Chawla said the power of radio as a huge influencer has remained unchallenged even with the advent of television.
"Radio is extremely popular and accessible. It can play a significant role in promoting important social issues weaving them in regular programming."
Currently FM radio operates in 91 cities across the country, besides the public service broadcaster, All India Radio (AIR) that serves 99.18 percent of the population.
To start with, this project would be focussing on nine states - Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha - that have rates of full immunization below the national average of 61 percent.
Dwelling on the reasons for low immunization rates, Raveesha R. Mugali, immunization consultant with Unicef India, said: "When parents were asked about the reasons for not getting their children vaccinated, more than half of them said either they were not aware of the vaccines or did not feel the need to go for immunization."
Emphasizing that no matter how busy a person was, he or she should not neglect their child's vaccination schedules, he said vaccines are the most cost effective way of protecting children's lives and can avert 1.4 million child deaths in India every year.