Pakistan prepare to give polio the final blow
By Yetenayet Kebede Fita
"I am waiting to see the day when polio is eradicated from Pakistan- waiting for the time I travel anywhere in the world and people no longer point fingers and say 'you came from a country that is exporting polio virus…' am already impatient till I see those remarks removed from my country…" Mudassir Hassan a Union Council Medical Officer (UCMO) working in Baldia town of Karachi speaks.
Being one of the last two polio endemic countries Pakistan has reported 85 percent of the polio cases in 2014. The country is now facing the challenge of curbing the circulation of Wild Polio Virus from its territory by mid-2016 - a challenge that requires tough and well prepared teams; a task laid on the shoulders of each and every Pakistani and their allies. But the good thing the people, the country and their polio eradication partners are determined to get the work done.
The polio eradication initiative in Pakistan has been faced with several hurdles that mostly emanated from traditional and religious misconceptions and misinformation.
Referring his six years of service as a frontline polio worker, Mudassir blames illiteracy as the major culprit for the alarming spread of polio virus in Pakistan "polio is a disease of illiteracy. We have several segments of the community that to date don't even know what polio is, or how to prevent polio, or even about the benefit of vaccinating a child otherwise polio should have been eradicated long ago."
A dental surgeon by profession, Mudassir is working as a Union Council Medical Officer (UCMO) in Baldia town of the Karachi metropolitan. He is in charge of ensuring the successful implementation of each and every task required for national and sub-national polio immunization days on polio. "…mobilizing a child from a refusal community is one of the challenging tasks. Parents refuse because they don't know about vaccines or because they are misinformed about polio and ways of preventing it…" he keeps on explaining the causes for his daily challenges "...the capacity of our teams is limited- some of them are not skilled enough to convince refusal families… and then there are these problems of security and high staff turnover…" he adds.
Pakistan and its polio eradication partners however, are determined to leave no stone unturned. They are now delivering a series of capacity building trainings across the country.
Jointly organized by UNICEF, WHO as well as Federal and Provincial Emergency Operation Centers on Polio, the training programs are aimed at equipping more than 24,000 vaccinators with up-to-date skills and information they need to successfully conduct upcoming National and Sub-national Immunization Days (NIDs) on Polio.
Trainings have already been given to master trainers from KP, FATA, Quetta, Sindh and Punjab provinces have already been conducted. These master trainers are expected to cascade the trainings to Area-in-Charges and vaccinators who are working at the frontline of the fight against polio.
The capacity building programs cover technical and communication contents that enhance the daily work performance of teams- topics ranging from micro plan preparation to tally sheet reporting as well as the Continuous Community Protected Vaccination.
Missed children tracking; house and finger marking; interpersonal communication skills are also among the array of topics covered in the interactive training programs that employ group works, presentations, role-plays and other adult learning methodologies and tools.
Actively attending the training held in Karachi town of Sindh province, Mudassir plans "…I will go impart the training in my Union Council… I will conduct training of Lady Health Workers in my town ... I will give the training to Area-in-Charges; and monitor the training of vaccinators myself"
Thousands of frontline health workers at various levels will benefit from the planned series of trainings. And ultimately more than 6,000 Area-in-charges and 24,000 vaccinators will be well equipped with all the skills and information they need before the national immunization day in September.
Despite its location in Sindh province that is considered a high risk polio corridor, the Baldia town has reported only one case of wild polio virus in 2014. However, the town is never safe from the threats of polio virus importation from neighboring towns and union councils - and that's why Mudassir reaffirms his conviction
"…I may have done much…but still it's far beyond enough…there is a long way to go. Everybody has to contribute to the eradication process otherwise it will not be eradicated…" before leaving the interview Mudassir apologized and rushed back to the training because he needs to prepare for the challenge of ensuring a polio free Pakistan.