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Friday, March 30, 2012

A polio-free Pakistan: turning the dream into reality

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), polio eradication drives in Pakistan can be very challenging endeavours. Approaching marginalised groups in remote areas of the country is a hard enough task, but perhaps the biggest challenge for anti-polio Health Workers is overcoming the cultural and social challenges peculiar to these communities.

Sikandar Khan is an Active Citizen and an Active Citizens training facilitator. Sikandar and his youth group, Movement for Rural Development Organization (MRDO) shared their experience of working for polio awareness and eradication with a rural community with us. Sikandar and his group members are from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), a conservative region of Pakistan. The group selected a village in a remote area of KPK to launch their Social Action Project.

According to Sikandar, communities in this region are particularly tight-knit. Like all tight-knit communities, they are not very open to advances by strangers. Although members of these communities are known for their warmth and hospitability, it does take them a little time to start trusting people who are not community members.

A major hurdle faced by the group was changing opinions and attitudes of the community members formed because of misconceptions about the polio vaccination campaign. One popular myth about the campaign is that the polio vaccine causes infertility and sterility. The group members organised awareness sessions with the village elders and faith leaders to address these misconceptions and highlighted the need for vaccinating young children.

The outcome of these sessions was very favourable for the group’s project. Most of the elders and faith leaders were successfully persuaded to convince the community members to have their children vaccinated.

The group also enlisted the help of Lady Health Workers (LHW) to administer the vaccine to the children – as all male health worker teams are generally mistrusted by conservative communities in Pakistan. Ultimately 39 families out of 54 had their children vaccinated against polio.

MRDO now plans to return to the village to try and convince the remaining 15 families to get their children vaccinated against the disease.

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