Polio affected Abrar becomes an advocate for polio prevention
Karachi, September 9, 2012 - Abrar Khan’s aging father looks to the floor in sadness as he recounts how his son contracted polio at the age of four. Now 25, Abrar was the only one out of his family of seven sisters and three brothers not to have been vaccinated against the crippling virus.
As Khan and his father recall, the onset of polio was quick and painful. Feverish temperatures were among the first signs. “Polio was not very common at that time so we consulted five different doctors. I was bedridden for a while and then physiotherapy improved my condition a little.”
Khan, who is the face of the current national polio awareness campaign , left a teaching job to become an advocate for polio prevention. For the past 7 months, he has been engaged as a social mobilizer for the polio campaign in Baldia Town, a high-risk area of Karachi. He is one of nine mobilizers working in the town, and one of over 1000 nationwide.
Social mobilizers are responsible for implementation of community-based activities alongside local partners. They disseminate communication materials at the community level, and regularly visit households using inter-personal communication techniques with caregivers in order to encourage them to immunize children. They also provide communication support to vaccinators and other outreach workers, especially in the case of refusals.
“Polio is a terrible disease. A child could be disabled for life. That is why I need to show myself as an example.”
While his mobility is limited, Khan does his best to cover as much ground as possible with braces and crutches. What makes him especially effective is that he speaks fluent Pashto – the predominant language in the area; a majority of the polio cases in Pakistan are found in Pashto-speaking communities.
“I do a daily plan for my social mobilizing,” said Khan, looking eager to resume his work as soon as possible after a meeting with religious and political leaders. “Today, for example, I will turn to a school where there are still some refusal cases. Religious reasons or lack of education are the main reasons behind refusals. Luckily, I get a lot of support from the religious leaders here.”
Pakistan had the largest number of polio cases in the world last year. Considerable progress has been made since then in the fight against this incurable disease. In 2012, there have been 30 cases only as opposed to 91 cases same time last year; a sharp decrease highlighting the renewed resolve by the PEI partners to eradicate polio from Pakistan forever.