By Jawahir Habib (Click here to see the blog site for all of this author's Communication Initiative blogs.)

40% polio cases of Pakistan in 2011 were reported from Balochistan. The province is 45% of the land of Pakistan and only 5% of population resulting in a highly dispersed population. Following the declaration of polio as a national emergency and the launch of president’s national emergency action plan, UNICEF establish a communication network in polio high risk districts of the country to support the Government of Pakistan in polio eradication initiative. More than 230 district level, union council level and grass root level staff were recruited in the 5 polio high risk districts of the province i.e. Quetta, Pishin, Killa Abdullah, Naseerabad and Jafferabad

52% of the cases reported in Balochistan in 2011 were girls, 90% of all polio affected children were from families where mothers had not received any formal education. United Nations and the global community observe international women's day on 8 March since 1975. In areas like Balochistan where access to women for dissemination of polio messages is one of the most significant communication challenges International women's day proved to be an excellent opportunity to reach the women in five high risk districts of Balochistan.

The aim of Women's day activities by the communication staff were to create awareness regarding polio vaccination particularly vaccinating a girl child, highlighting its importance in preventing lifetime disability as disabled women and girls face triple discrimination in the third word- being disabled, being poor and being a female.

In district Jafferabad over a hundred women joined the COMNet staff to participate in a walk for raising awareness regarding polio campaigns and focusing on women’s crucial role in polio eradication urging mothers and female care givers to vaccinate their children. Women marched through streets of district capital Dera-Allayar chanting "two drops of vaccine-every child every time". Women carried slogans and banners carrying messages to urge mothers to save their children from this crippling disease.

In neighboring district Naseerabad the COMNet team with support of Government of Balochistan arranged a women’s festival "Khawateen Mela" in Dera Murad Jamali Government Girls Model High School DMJ.  The event was focused on a Mother’s role in Polio Eradication more than two thousand two hundred women from the community, female student’s teachers and female health workers attended the event.  The event included a number of entertainment activities as speech and quiz competitions on women’s role in Polio Eradication, polio songs and drama in local languages based on key polio messages, and different stalls as free polio face painting and games to promote polio vaccination. More than five hundred children were vaccinated by the mobile polio teams at the event. "We have never seen so many women brought together for a common cause - it has made us believe that women have a key role in Polio Eradication" said woman to a media channel who were there to cover the event.

The south western predominantly Pashtoon districts Quetta, Killah-Abdullah and Pishin which border to Afghanistan cultural barriers restrict women to participate in social events, interact with male members and even females from outside the community. Here female primary, middle and secondary schools are one of the key venues to access women for dissemination key health, education, hygiene and sanitation messages.

COMNet team together with a local non-government organization Sanjog arranged an interactive theater at Government Girls College Kechi-biag in the suburbs of capital city Quetta. More than 200 female students and teachers participated in the event. The interactive theater mainly focused on families who refuse polio vaccination to their children, girl child in particular. The theater showed that how decisions of parents can affect the life of their children for life time.  Through this entertaining session they urged mothers to vaccinate all their children under the age of 5. The activity provided the team an opportunity to engage the females in dialogue for decision making regarding vaccination of a child.

COMNet team conducted three school polio vaccine awareness sessions in Girls High Schools of District Pishin and Killa-Abdullah, prominent pediatricians, lady doctors and female district education officers facilitated these sessions. The female students were sensitized on the importance of polio vaccination they were encouraged to share the messages with the women in their areas. One of the major issues faced in these areas by the polio eradication program is access to the households due to male team members often children who are sleeping, playing inside or sick are missed. Infants who are less than 40 days are often missed as it is a tradition that they are not to be taken outside a room or shown to any stranger as it might bring evil eye on them.

Through these sessions the students were urged to share with mothers the importance of  vaccination of all their children under the age of 5, bring them to the door step when the polio teams arrive even if a child is less than 40 days, is sleeping or sick. More than a thousand female students, teachers and female community members were accessed through these awareness sessions

Balochistan is one of the least developed provinces in Pakistan, with the worst health and nutrition indicators; life for a woman in Balochistan comes with hardship. Empowering the women with knowledge regarding polio vaccination and routine immunization may enable women to help their husbands take a correct decision for the health of their children.


Disclaimer [from this blog's author, jawahir]: (Views and opinions with this Blog represent my own and not those of people, institutions or organizations I am affiliated with unless stated explicitly. My Blog is not affiliated with; neither does it represent the views, position or attitudes of my employer)