By Jawahir Habib (Click here to see the blog site for all of this author's Communication Initiative blogs.)
This August marks my four years working for the polio eradication initiative. During this journey I have met a few polio affected children, who will never be able to walk again.
In 2008 we had to interview the mother of a polio affected child, being one of the very few female members in the District Polio Team I was given the responsibility. The child lived in area called Jama-e-Salfia in Quetta named after a religious institution in that area.
Shoaib was a two years old Pashtun child with big bright eyes wearing very dirty clothes and playing with mud. “Doctor is here to check your child” shouted our female social mobilizer Arifa Aziz in Pashto. His parents had refused vaccinating their male children. I still remember her mother saying "We thought vaccine is not for a male child they are born strong”. I picked Shoaib in my arms and I looked at his mother - "And now he will never be able to play and run like other boys". Our team of social mobilizers vaccinated 70 refusal children in the area. 40% of the cases reported from Balochistan province in 2011 were due to parents refusing immunization to their children. More than 60% of refusals refuse vaccine to their children due to religious reasons and misconceptions associated with the content.
I remember the village just a few kilometers away from Quetta city, a polio case was confirmed in the area in 2008. Reportedly the village refused immunization; we met a community elder in the village that was cooperative and took us to the house where a child was diagnosed with poliomyelitis. The street was filled with garbage and open sewage water. Qudratullah was a chubby child barely one year of age in his grandfathers' lap sitting on a torn rug; he smiled when I waved at him.
"We have never refused any vaccination" his grandfather said, "the teams never come here we haven’t seen any polio team in months." Community elder who was a hakim also agreed to it. "Doctor says Quduratullah will never be able to walk again" his grandfather told me and for a moment I didn’t know what to say. After our visit door to door in 30 households we found out the houses was multifamily dwellings, teams never visit every household. They just marked a few houses which were at the entrance of village and left, leaving nearly 80 children unimmunized and susceptible to the virus. More than 75% of polio cases in 2011 were children who lived in multiple family dwellings and belonged to Pashtoon speaking families.
Post campaign monitoring data following each round also highlights high number of children missed due to no teams or teams not visiting the area; and lack of monitoring and supervision due to managerial issues in Quetta, Pishin and Killa-Abdullah have been repeatedly highlighted in National Emergency action plan, IMB report and by the TAG.
There were 73 children like Qudratullah and Shoaib last year who lost their battle to polio; they will never be able to walk again following a massive polio outbreak. This year so far only 3 children have been affected in the province. Nonetheless for Polio even one is too many; we are very close to eradication of this disease; and we will.
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