Balochistan is 45% of the geographical area of Pakistan and only 5% of the population. More than 75% of the population of Balochistan lives in rural areas, and it has one of the weakest healthcare infrastructures in the country. The tertiary care hospitals in the provincial capital Quetta are considered crucial settings for the polio eradication initiative. Mobile teams are deployed in the hospitals during polio campaigns, and each of these hospitals has an immunization center where children can get polio drops and routine immunization shots.

For the final push to eradicate polio, we needed to go beyond that and explore the hospitals as settings for not only vaccination but for dissemination of information about health. Through the hospitals, we can reach diverse populations at a single place and provide credibility to the information. Hospitals also provide an opportunity to access women - in a conservative tribal society, one of the greatest challenges for polio communications is to reach mothers and female caregivers with polio messages.

Considering the importance of hospitals and inspired from India’s engagement of S.N. Medical College, UNICEF and WHO, with support of Department of Health Government of Balochistan, collaborated with Boland Medical College Department of Community Medicine and initiated a student volunteer initiative to engage students from Bolan Medical College (BMC) which is the only medical college in Balochistan.  The college enrolls students from all over the province, providing a chance to disseminate polio messages across the province.

Bolan Medical College Hospital (BMCH) is affiliated with BMC in Quetta and is one of the busiest Government hospitals in the country; it is one of the four tertiary care hospitals in Balochistan and hosts population from across the province, neighboring Sindh and across southern Afghanistan. Balochistan is the least developed province in terms of health infrastructure - it lacks adequate number of workforce; for example, in the province, there is one doctor for 10,000 people, resulting in more patients at hospitals like BMCH.

Three orientation sessions were held for the volunteers, making them familiar with the progress of polio eradication initiative, polio campaigns and AFP [Acute Flaccid Paralysis] surveillance.  50 medical college students both male and female participated in polio campaigns conducted over 6 months. These students mainly volunteered to educate the parents in BMCH, identify missed children and bring them to the polio booths for vaccination, support the COMNet social mobilizers to address refusals and support post campaign monitoring of polio campaigns.

I met these students working in the hospital outpatient department buzzing with patients. The students in white coats were trying to talk with parents and identify missed children. Few of the students were busy putting polio campaign posters in the hospital and distributing flyers among the visitors and staff.

 

Pictures of Student volunteers at Bolan Medical College

 

The parents would ask them questions... is it safe? Is it the same drops we get at home? Why should we vaccinate our children every time?  And the students in white coats answer them confidently and parents seem to listen more than they listen to a vaccinator or a social mobilizer. On a single day of the three days immunization campaign at Bolan Medical College Hospital about 600 children were vaccinated in the hospital.

Engagement of hospitals and university can be a rewarding experience in a province where 50% of the population is literate - the students can prove to be both a trusted source of information and also agents of change. They are enthusiastic, hardworking and honest - all that we need to eradicate polio once and for all.

Disclaimer: (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).

Submitted by jawahir on April 11, 2013 - 2:22pm