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QUETTA: For many women living and working in Balochistan, life is very difficult. As if the security situation doesn’t create enough problems, cultural sensitivities and responsibilities at home make everything even harder.

However, despite the odds more than 84 per cent of the health workers trying to eradicate the poliovirus in Quetta are women. These women are on the frontline and go door-to-door almost every month to inoculate children under the age of five and explain to families why the vaccine is important.

They are motivated, strong and determined to see a polio-free Pakistan. One such woman is Bibi Hoor.

The 70-year-old is better known in Pishin, her hometown, as Dadi. She’s been working as a community-based health worker in the area — a high-risk one in the province — for several years.

As the breadwinner of her family, Dadi vaccinates nearly 230 children on an average during every polio-eradication campaign.

“There are eight to 10 children in almost every home in the areas I get assigned and I vaccinate all of them,” she said while talking to Dawn, adding that she never got refused. “Once I even convinced a maulana and his family to let me vaccinate their child. They had been refusing to do so for more than a decade or so,” she said proudly.

Dadi says she didn’t go to school after fifth grade and can barely speak a word of English or solve mathematical problems.

To keep a tab on how many children she vaccinates, Dadi has a unique method. When she’s in the field, Dadi keeps a handkerchief, duster and tasbeeh with her.

If she finds a child who needs to be vaccinated but is also dirty, she says she uses her handkerchief to clean the child before giving them the drops and marking their fingers.

“I don’t know English or maths but I have learnt how to do things on the job — how to vaccinate children, the polio vaccine efficacy indicator and door marking technique,” said Dadi, adding that she counts the number of children vaccinated on her tasbeeh and then writes the figure on doors and walls.

“Children are very happy with me and their families give me so much love and respect when I visit their homes during the vaccination drive,” explained the matron. Since 2015, no polio cases have been reported from the Pishin block; however, environment samples from the area have tested positive for the virus.

According to Dadi, she also gives the families information about other deadly diseases and the importance of routine immunisation.

“Since I am a religious woman, people respect and accept me,” she said, adding that initially she was hesitant about joining the Polio Eradication Initiative as a community-health worker so she sent her son to Quetta to get an opinion and consent from a religious scholar.

“He told us that it would be perfectly fine for me and others to join the programme as even people who go for Haj and Umra get the vaccination,” said the 70-year-old.

“I work with a lot of dedication, honesty and enthusiasm. My aim is to vaccinate every single child in the province and to save them from this crippling disease,” she said.

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2017