In Pakistan, particularly Swat, the tribal areas and Baluchistan, there is a need for concentrated efforts in order to help immunise children against polio.
Health officials have warned that if the on-going polio vaccination campaign is not successful, then it may become increasing difficult to contain the spread of the disease.
In the developed world polio is considered the diseases of the past, with the key to success being an effective vaccination campaign. Polio is not curable and is only prevented through vaccination, with health experts stating “it is important to prevent it from occurring and for that it is necessary to vaccinate the children.” Thanks to international efforts, polio has been successfully eradicated in the majority of the world. Polio victims can face long-term problems which often include physical disability or deformity.
In parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, continued violence is often a hindrance to executing a successful polio campaign. On the other hand, false rumours make it difficult for health campaigners to convince parents to vaccinate their children.
Rumours are damaging with a saying in Pashto that states ‘che rikhthya ratlal, no dargho kalee rwan karee wo’ translating to ‘rumours have already torn apart the villages before the truth could arrive.’ This is relevant to these areas, where such rumours prevent health workers from completing their job to vaccinate children.
Zohra is a health worker in Swat valley; her daily task is to vaccinate children under five in the remote villages. She says “In order to vaccinate children against polio, we go through extensive training, along with building up years of experience, but it is very frustrating that parents refuse to vaccinate their children. They should not listen to false and baseless rumours about the polio drops.”
Even transporting the drops to these remote areas is a very difficult task as she tells of how “They have to be properly monitored by the health experts. It needs a certain temperature and has to be kept away from the sun to stop the drops from expiring.”
“It is usually mothers and sisters in homes who do not co-operate with us. Often we visit their homes and the children due to be administered the drops are not there. We then have to wait for hours and sometimes they are just playing in the streets, but their parents do not bother to call them.”
She adds that “Polio campaigns are well advertised in areas beforehand, so that there is sufficient time for people to keep children at home for vaccination. The role of mothers is very important. If a child is ill, it is the mother who suffers more and therefore they should co-operate with us to help prevent polio.”
Saeeda is another health worker in Malakand. She visits villages in this mountainous area and finds that “It is very strange that sometimes a child is at home but their mothers do not allow us to administer the drops to them, because she has simply heard a false rumour regarding the campaign.”
Saeeda agrees with Zohra and insists “Mothers should be more responsible and make sure that their children remain at home during the polio campaign, when they know we will be coming. The vaccination is very important for their children, so that long term disabilities can be avoided and prevented.”