AFTER the hysteria over anti-polio vaccines in Peshawar led to a sudden spike in refusals, Pakistan’s polio programme heads believed there was a need for evaluation of how the campaign is conducted at the grass roots. When it comes to eradicating polio, one case is one too many. Following the large number of refusals after the last anti-polio drive, there has naturally been an increase in the number of new polio cases reported throughout the country. Just five months into 2019, and there have already been 17 cases of the virus reported. In 2018, there were 12 reported cases of polio. In 2017, the figure was the lowest it has ever been recorded at just eight. Several interviews with front-line workers and their supervisors by the polio programme have led to the formulation of new reforms which will be in effect for the next campaign in June. Namely, front-line workers will no longer be expected to carry the burden of heavy data collection, but simply focus on administrating the vaccine.
Where they previously had to carry a large register of questions — and in many conservative households, the questions were perceived to be too intrusive — they will now carry a single piece of paper that serves as a tally of who has been administered the anti-polio drops, and who remains to be administered within a single household. The number of visits to households by polio workers has also been reduced: one visit from the front-line workers, and the second time as a follow-up by the supervisors in charge. These reforms are being complemented by a government campaign against disinformation regarding vaccines by bringing social media giants into the fold, as much of the disinformation was spread through social media propaganda. The changes will certainly ease some of the burden on the front-line workers who face a host of challenges, resistance, and hostility for simply doing their job, but whether they are effective in combating the virus in the long run remains to be seen.
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2019