Health camps help reach out to persistently missed children in Lahore

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LAHORE: “The government health facility is located at a distance and we were reluctant to go there. But we came here because this place is easily accessible”, says the mother of 10-month old Mashal Khan after getting routine immunization to the child at a specially organized health camp set up in Lahore’s old Victoria School.

“Since we were away to our ancestral home my child missed out on OPV drops in the last campaign and also did not receive measles vaccination, this camp has helped me catch up on those missed opportunities,” says the mother.

Mashal is one of 1600 other children visiting the medical camp in the past few days. The other three were held in high risk union councils of 90, 118 and 67.

Punjab had zero polio-affected children in 2016, but with the beginning of 2017 the virus paralysed a child in Lodhran, leaving the family devastated. Investigations into this polio case and some recent environmental samples showing circulation of virus in the area have suggest that children who have been paralysed by the virus have frequent travel history to polio-affected areas of Balochistan, Sindh and/or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The above mentioned UCs in Lahore are considered high risk because of the clusters of settled families who had frequent travel history or have visitors from other polio affected areas of Balochistan, Sindh and KP. These camps are helping to identify and reach out to all such children who have not received any dose of routine vaccination and/or OPV drops.

Vaccination of such children and those persistently missed in polio campaigns are the most potent challenges for Punjab. Punjab has adopted special strategies to reach out to children from high risk areas. In May National Immunization Drive only, over 300,000 such children were vaccinated in host communities and transit sites. Medical camps is also one of the key humanitarian actions taken by the health department to ensure that marginalised communities receive healthcare and that no child is left unvaccinated.

Despite hot weather, the school’s thick pre-partition walls provided much needed relief to the visitors. Being Friday, people rushed to the camp early in the day and continued to visit till late afternoon.

Various stalls had been set up in the school premises to sensitise communities about dengue and conduct routine immunization including polio. Free medicines were made available in the dispensary.

A couple of Lady Health Visitors were available to screen the patients before check-up by doctors. A separate counter was set up to register children who did not have birth certificates. “The community response is massive and it will help revive their trust in health services by the government’, says Dr. Nagza who is deputed at the camp to examine patients.

Communication Network, an organisation supported by the UNICEF for social mobilization, played an important to sensitise the community during the four medical camps. As per data available, nearly 1600 patients visited all the four medical camps for various ailments. Over 437 children were given routine vaccination, 70 of them for the first time. Ninety four children who had missed a dose were provided with routine vaccination. 322 children who were due for vaccination were also given free vaccine. Taking advantage of the camp, the union council secretaries registered 125 children who did not have their birth certificates.

Emergency Operations Centre Coordinator Dr Munir Ahmad hailed efforts of the Comnet as well as health staff deployed in the camp. “The services of the doctors, paramedical and Comnet staff in this humid weather are exemplary and a gift for the ailing community just before Ramazan”, says Dr Munir. “The Punjab government with the support of Unicef will take it even further in other districts of Punjab very soon”, says the EOC coordinator.

“Children who frequently move to areas which are not polio free are more vulnerable and at the same time carry the risk to bring virus to areas declared polio-free. Through this camp we have tried to provide additional protection to such children”, says Dr Munir.

Globally Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only polio endemic countries. Pakistan and Afghanistan have jointly reported five polio cases in the current year. Pakistan reported two polio cases; one from Lodhran, Punjab and the other from Diamer in Gilgit Baltistan.

“We are thankful to the administration of the medical camp because it helped us save time and protect children from various diseases”, says mother of Mashal.

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