KARACHI, Jan 7: Some lady health workers (LHWs) in high-risk areas are being threatened with the sack to compel them to participate in a planned polio vaccination campaign, it emerged on Monday when the government resumed the drive in less volatile areas of the city.
Only last month five polio workers were shot dead and several other were wounded in Landhi, Orangi, Baldia Town and Sohrab Goth.
Speaking to Dawn, lady health workers based in Bin Qasim Town said that town health officials were unwilling to provide them dependable security.
Instead, they added, the town health officials were warning them that they would lose their jobs if they did not take part in the vaccination drive.
“We are in jeopardy as on the one hand gangsters have warned us not to run this campaign in the area, while on the other hand government officials are forcing us to participate in the drive,” a lady health visitor told Dawn while requesting anonymity.
“We are facing great opposition from parents who are not allowing their daughters to volunteer for the work,” she said.
The lady health visitor demanded that the authorities prohibit movement of motorcycles in high-polio risk areas during the vaccination drive and post personnel of law-enforcement agencies as per needs of the lady health workers.
The abutting neighbourhoods of Landhi union council 1 and Bin Qasim union council 4 are considered high-risk areas.
“Men wielding guns roam around these localities. They threatened us with dire consequences if we continue our work in the area,” said another lady health visitor.
“The cause of polio is close to our heart but we don’t want to commit suicide by visiting these areas when the authorities seem not interested in protecting us,” she said.
She recalled that about six months ago, three female volunteers were taking part in a polio eradication drive when they were held hostage in a house in Pathan Colony in Bin Qasim Town’s UC 7 for hours. While all the officials concerned were informed about the incident, no one lodged any FIR of the incident, she added.
She said: “The captors misbehaved with the girls and torn their scarves and burqas. The girls were lucky enough that they got a chance to break open the door and escape. When officials were informed about the incident, they said it wasn’t their responsibility to lodge a report,” she said.
The lady health workers said the government utilised their services whenever they were needed but it was unfortunate that the government did not attend to their needs related to security, timely payment of dues and regularisation of services.
Bushra Arain, heading the All Pakistan Lady Health Workers Association, said she was informed about the threats workers had been receiving from the government and she would raise the issue in a meeting with the health minister on Tuesday.
“The LHWs are facing multiple issues. Apart from security problems, people are not giving them the respect they deserve, which is highly regrettable,” she said.
Payment of remuneration for the past polio campaigns was still pending, she said, demanding that the government address it on an urgent basis.
Health EDO Dr Imdadullah Siddqui said: “All town health officers have been directed not to compel anyone to participate in the vaccination campaign and to provide full security to polio teams.
“If workers are being threatened, they must come to us and lodge a complaint,” he added.