Unsung heroes of polio eradication in Balochistan

Updated September 09, 2019

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By doing their jobs they are ensuring that the polio workers are performing their jobs as smoothly as possible. — AFP/File
By doing their jobs they are ensuring that the polio workers are performing their jobs as smoothly as possible. — AFP/File

QUETTA: There are so many individuals who are directly or indirectly supporting the frontline workers of the polio eradication programme in Balochistan. By doing so they are ensuring that the polio workers are performing their jobs as smoothly as possible.

This is tough especially because the environment in the country is becoming increasingly hostile, often violently, to the vaccinators. Yet, from sensitisation to operational processes, these unsung heroes are providing much needed support, without any monetary benefit, ensuring each child in the province is getting the required anti-polio drops.

Here are some of their stories:

Dr Anees is quietly working away in Qila Abdullah district, bordering Afgh­anistan, informing families and communities about the benefits and the necessity of anti-polio vaccination. “I tell parents that poliovirus can paralyse the child for his or her whole life as it affects the nervous system of the body and insist that they must get their children vaccinated,” he tells Dawn.

Amna Bibi is a frontline polio worker who goes door to door to find out families who have children under the age of five. Once she finds such households she gives the children anti-polio drops.

As part of her duties, she has to mark the door as a reminder that she has covered the house during the campaign and record data of the children for which she seeks the help of her son Ajmal, a class tenth student, who accompanies his illiterate mother and does the door marking and data recording for her.

The reporting of five polio cases so far this year from Balochistan has worried government officials; as a result, they have launched special anti-polio campaigns during which one million children under the age of five will be given polio drops.

Neelam works as a community health worker in Pishin district, a sensitive area in terms of poliovirus. She is a part of the polio vaccination drive in Pishin but has to often take along her three-year-old daughter Fatima Imran as there is no one to look after her while she is away. Sometimes, her husband accompanies the mother and daughter. While the mother is busy with other children in the district, her husband takes care of the daughter or helps her out in any other way he can. “He does this voluntarily,” Neelam tells Dawn after vaccinating Fatima with polio drops as she works in the field.

Meanwhile, Coordinator of Emergency Operations Cen­tre Rashid Razzaq has appealed to parents to not pay attention to negative pro­paganda against the polio vaccination programme. “Pak­istan and Afg­hanistan are the only countries in the world where the poliovirus continues to exist. So far this year 62 cases have been reported in Pakistan which is an alarmingly high figure. The positive role of all the stakeholders for the vaccination campaign will ultimately lead to poliovirus’ eradication,” he tells Dawn.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2019