ISLAMABAD: Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, held a virtual meeting on Thursday with women health workers from the Pakistan’s polio programme and stressed the crucial role of women vaccinators to end polio.

This was the first such interaction between Ms Gates and the polio team in Pakistan and was moderated by Anita Zaidi, president of gender equality at the foundation.

According to a statement issued by the polio programme, the polio workers shared with Ms Gates their personal stories and motivations for being part of the programme. They shared how their teams work with families and local influencers to help protect children in their communities and migrant populations from poliovirus and other diseases. They also spoke about the importance of tailored approaches to addressing refusals and ensuring no child is missed from the protection of the polio vaccine, it added.

“The trust we have built over time with families in our communities is what opens the door, and is key to our work in ensuring all children are protected against diseases like polio,” said one frontline worker.

Ms Gates thanked the women and their teams for their important work and for sharing their stories. She underscored that women have been crucial to the progress Pakistan has made against polio and that listening to women and increasing their involvement at all levels in the programme will be vital to achieving polio eradication.

Women are critical to building trust in communities and comprise over 62pc of polio vaccinators in Pakistan, she added.

Sheeba Afghani, lead of the National Gender Group of the polio programme, highlighted the programme’s new initiative that is being rolled out to systematically listen to and learn from female frontline workers to help resolve challenges together in areas categorised at highest risk for polio.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2022

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