“Our collective success in polio eradication since 1994 has been the direct result of the hard work done by a skilled workforce which regularly taps into and responds to the needs and concerns of the communities that they serve,”
Zareen Khanum, lady health worker and frontline worker, District Poonch, Azad Jammu and Kashmir
Interrupting polio and enhancing health at the community level requires sustained dedication at all levels, including support from government officials, donors and partners, community leaders and religious scholars.
At the same time, the real battle against polio takes place on the frontlines. Frontline workers or the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme’s vaccinators are the people who serve on the frontlines of this battle. They are one of the most committed segments of programme whose unwavering dedication serves as the foundation for progress towards a polio free Pakistan.
One of these frontline workers is Zareen Khanum, who hails from District Poonch, Tehsil Hajira, which is situated in the northeastern province of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. She currently works as a Lady Health Worker in THQ Hospital Hajira and has as a frontline worker for polio vaccination campaigns since the beginning of Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme in 1994.
Zareen Khanum is part of the 260,000 strong frontline worker workforce that regularly defies all odds to reach vulnerable children with the polio vaccine during campaigns. She has often walked miles in the scorching heat, rain and knee-deep snow in order to administer polio drops to children.
Fighting polio as a united front: a dynamic mother-son duo
Zareen covers more than 120 houses from dawn to dusk. It is a tough duty that requires grit and stamina.
“Sometimes the poor infrastructure in our district makes our job very hard. Rough terrain and broken roads sometimes make it hard to travel and reach every home,” shared Zareen.
Zareen has enlisted the support of her son, however, so that she can reach the most houses during campaign rounds. Her son, Mujeeb Khan, has been accompanying her on her vaccination rounds since childhood.
20-year-old Mujeeb is currently studying B.S Agriculture from the University of Poonch in Rawalakot. He takes out time for his busy schedule to help his mother and support the cause of a polio free Pakistan.
“I do not support my mother for money or ambition, rather, I feel proud to a part of this national cause for my country and my country’s children,” said Mujeeb.
The district they work in has become well-acquainted with the mother-son duo. This has helped create an environment of trust whereby they have been able to successfully convince people of the importance of vaccination against polio.
“People listen to me as I am committed to this cause. They know and recognize my mother and me from years of knocking on their doors during campaign rounds. I have always made it a point to inform them of scientific evidence in order to overcome any misinformation or conspiracy theories they may have about the polio vaccine,” he added.
Resiliency in the face of challenges
Zareen Khanum has a wealth of experience in the field of polio eradication. She has seen first-hand the kind of challenges that have kept the country from reaching its goal of a polio-free status, especially staunch refusals to the vaccine by parents and caregivers.
“Refusals are a major challenge for us. The people who are well informed are cooperative and readily vaccinate their children, but those who have had limited access to basic education or scientific information can be a major are hurdle to this battle. This is because these people mainly rely on misinformation they receive from others or through social media,” explained Zareen.
On this note, Zareen emphasized the need for educating the society on the safety and efficacy of the polio vaccine and in spreading awareness about the risks associated with polio. She believes that all parents have the right to make informed decisions about their children’s health and well-being and that is where frontline workers like her can make all the difference.
A win against polio is a win for global health
People in hard-to reach settlements generally experience low coverage of basic public health services including routine immunization. In recent years, however, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme has broadened its focus to enhance synergy with the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI). Through this synergy, Pakistan hopes to increase immunity of children through strengthened routine immunization in conjunction with special door-to-door campaigns.
In her job as a lady health worker at THQ Hospital Hajira, Zareen also encourages parents and caregivers to stay up to date with their children’s routine immunization not just for polio but all vaccine preventable diseases as well.
Zareen elaborated on this saying that, “eradicating polio is not just about polio vaccination campaigns. It is about developing an understanding amongst our people on the importance of disease prevention through vaccines. Through my job as a lady health worker and frontline worker, I make sure that parents understand during both hospital visits and vaccination campaign rounds.”
Zareen and Mujeeb’s Message for World Polio Day
On the occasion of World Polio Day, Zareen and Mujeeb shared their messages for solidarity and hope in the fight against polio in Pakistan.
“I express my solidarity with all polio workers and lady health workers on this day. Let us all unite to rid our country of this virus and save current and future generations from polio. Everyone should make sure their children get the polio vaccine,” shared Zareen Khanum.
“This virus is clearly an obstacle to the future well-being of our nation’s children. Let us all come together to defeat it through hard work and discipline,” added Mujeeb Khan.