Health Camps Services Reach the Underserved Children and Women in Pakistan

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By Wasif Mahmood

Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab, 07 July 2015 --- A crowd of people holding their minor children surround a doctor sitting at his desk under the shade of a tree at a health camp in the remote village of Chandiya at Dera Ghazi Khan district of Punjab, waiting for their turn to receive medical treatment. "There is no health facility in our village in a radius of 6 kilometres. We have to take our women to far off villages. Most of the time we have rely on quacks or traditional healers, thus putting the lives of our children and women in danger," says Ali. Dera Ghazi Khan is one of eight districts sharing borders with polio high risk areas of Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa having active virus circulation and polio cases. The district is notorious for low immunization coverage, poor health services and misconceptions permeating among parents about oral polio vaccine. With the aim of eradicating polio and improving access to basic health services for population at high risk of the polio virus, the Government of Pakistan, with support from technical and funding partners, has set up 1,857 health camps across the country. The camps have been arranged in 27 districts, towns and agencies across the country. Twelve of these camps are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, four in the Federally Administered Frontier Areas FATA, seven in Sindh and four in Punjab. So far this year, 480,538 people have benefited from the health services delivered at the camps, including 10,000 children under the age of five at these remote and destitute villages who have never had the oral polio vaccine. Health camps in Punjab have been rolled out at 501 of the poorest UCs in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Rajanpur and Dera Ghazi Khan. People living in these remote and destitute Union Councils (UCs) are deprived of even the very basic health care, water and sanitation services. The children under the age of five in the district miss their polio vaccine continuously, thus putting them at high risk of permanent disability by the debilitating disease. "This is a rare chance that a doctor is visiting our village to give us free check-up and medicines. It’s a blessing for us to services right at our neighbourhood, "says Sher Ali, a local standing in the crowd who has brought his child for vaccination. The camps turned out to be a major health seeking point for women who are often marginalised in a rural community. To date, more than 3,300 women have been protected against tetanus at the health camps. "We are poor; my husband cannot afford the cost of fuel for the journey to hospitals which are located in remote locations. It is very difficult for him to take me and our little child Mahwish to the health centre for treatment or vaccination," says Kaneez Bibi, a mother of three at a health camp in village Darkhast Khan. "Healthcare has been elusive, but when I heard about the health camp in our village I came to avail the services. The doctor here has told me that I have low blood pressure and gave me free medicines," Kaneez Bibi adds. The district has a notorious history of low vaccination coverage. People in the district are reluctant to take their children to health centres that the whole routine immunization schedule has fallen into oblivion. Not a surprise that the third polio case of Punjab in 2014 was reported from the same district adding to the last year tally of 309 cases in the country. "Five of my seven children have not been vaccinated against any disease. Now they are well beyond the age of vaccination," says Allah Ditta, father of 8-month old Anas. "I heard an announcement on megaphone that doctors will be available at health camp, therefore I brought Anas and his brother who are both not five years old yet for vaccination and check-up," he adds. In neighbouring Rajanpur the situation is not better off. The district has a poor routine immunization record and marked by poor low healthcare services performance. Poverty and Illiteracy are main reasons behind superstitions and poor demand for health seeking behaviour. "Jannat Bibi is no exception to that perception. ”My daughter-in-law is expecting her first child, but her husband has prohibited her from vaccination because he thinks she has been possessed by a supernatural creature. However, I think it’s never too late to receive the injection. The female doctor here has checked her thoroughly and gave her tetanus injection and baby kit", Bibi says. Lady Health Worker Sughra says: "we try to address such misconceptions in separate sessions with expecting mothers and their mother-in-laws but they have little effect. The health camps are a good opportunity to discuss such issues with women and address their concerns. Up till now we have held over 10 health education sessions with over 149 women in the camp. We teach them about safe health practices as well as benefits of polio and routine immunization".

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