KARACHI: “We have to work in partnership and join hands to achieve results,” says Tasneem Fatima, Team Lead CHIP, Karachi. Fatima has been working with CHIP (Civil Society Human and Institutional Development Programme) since 2015. At present she is working to encourage and motivate parents to get their children immunised. Her target area is UC-2 in Baldia Town, district West Karachi.
“There are eight super risk union councils in Karachi and UC-2 Baldia (Ittehad Town) is one of them,” she says. “People belonging to various communities live there but most are Pakhtuns. There are multiple problems, such as lack of awareness, illiteracy, and poverty, due to which immunisation rate is very low,” says Fatima.
People are not aware of the need for immunisation or if some of them are, they don’t know where to go for it. A large number of children in this area are not in the net and have not been vaccinated even once (zero dose) at one year of age, or have been dropped out after the first dose which means there is a high rate of vaccination dropout.
“There are 36,000 houses in the union council but the whole area is an illegal settlement, hence there is no hospital. Two dispensaries have been opened only last month. This adds to the problem as if a child experiences any medicinal reaction or side-effect to the vaccine, there is no hospital to go to,” she says. Due to a lack of awareness, even minor fever or pain that is often experienced after immunisation, is considered a big deal and often results in parents refusing the second dose.
“Refusal rate is around 10-15 percent in the case of polio, while it is higher in the routine immunisation, since for polio teams pay door-to-door visits whereas for routine immunisation the child has to be brought to the vaccination centre,” says Ghulam Ali, DSV West Karachi.
Given the sad state of affairs, the civil society and EPI have joined hands to bring about a change in this super risk union council.
During the World Immunisation Week — April 24-30 — various activities such as awareness walks and mass mobilisation campaigns were held in the city. As part of a similar campaign, a ceremony was held at the DHO office, Karachi, in collaboration with CHIP, Unicef and WHO on April 27 to acknowledge the work of those vaccinators whose efforts are bringing about a change.
In all, seven shields and three prizes were awarded to the meritorious ones. The chief guest at the ceremony was Dr Attiq ur Rehman Quraishi, Additional DHO (Admin), who gave away the prizes and shields.
Given the level of illiteracy and lack of awareness, it needed a lot of work to mobilise people to get their children vaccinated. “We work for the young generation; to mobilise people but not in isolation; we have to ensure that children are vaccinated,” says Fatima.
For this, outreach centres for vaccinators were established where vaccinators are available once in a week to undertake vaccination. “This is important as demand and supply go hand in hand. If parents visit a centre and find no one present there, the drive could upset them,” she adds.
Months of hard work — which involved a mobiliaation drive, door-to-door visits, creation of mohalla committees and lining up of community resource persons, both male and female — is now paying off.
According to Fatima, in the three months of field work, which followed months of background work, more than 50 per cent of zero dose and about 30 per cent of dropout children have been vaccinated in the Ittehad Town UC.
“It’s a great example of how civil society organisations and government can work together and share the workload,” she said.
Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2021