Almost everyone in the Killa Saifullah district of Balochistan, Pakistan, knows and respects 35-year-old Taj Muhammad. A dedicated and passionate doctor by profession, Dr Taj spends his days working as a Union Council Medical Officer in his local public health facility, and his evenings running a free medical clinic for local residents.
In his capacity as Medical Officer, he coordinates polio eradication efforts at the Union Council level, which is the smallest administrative unit in Pakistan.
His role includes coordinating microplanning, training frontline health workers, and supervising polio vaccination campaign activities. Since the start of his medical career in 2007, he has supervised more than 100 polio vaccination campaigns.
Dr Taj says he became a doctor to fill the existing health care gap in his area. “During my childhood, my mother was seriously ill and she died because of the absence of medical facilities in our area. She often used to tell me that I must become a doctor to help poor people with their health. She died afterwards but her words are still in my heart,” he explains.
His hometown, Killa Saifullah, is located 135 kilometers away from Balochistan’s provincial capital Quetta. Economic and social deprivation is widespread, and the district lacks basic health facilities, particularly for women and children. “There is only one hospital, serving only 150 people per day in the district, whereas the current population is more than 200,000. In these conditions, working as a medical officer is quite challenging,” Dr Taj says.
Reflecting on his changed beliefs as he takes a break from vaccinating children during the July campaign, he remembers the conviction with which he held his anti-vaccination stance, and the challenge he was presented with.
“I was a religious scholar who was very skeptical of non-governmental organizations and the polio vaccine. I had always supported the anti-vaccination stance of some of the religious leaders around me.”
Since the first polio case of 2018 was detected, polio vaccination campaigns have been conducted in response in all neighboring districts, including Killa Saifullah. But whilst this has increased immunity to the virus, it has also caused vaccine hesitancy amongst some parents, who question the need for multiple vaccination campaigns.
“We are trying hard to vaccinate each and every child; however, repeated campaigns and misconceptions are posing a big challenge for us,” Dara Khan says.
Luckily, the efforts of dedicated doctors like Dr Taj are helping to remove misconceptions and doubt. With the immense trust and respect he enjoys from his community, he has been able to use his free evening clinic as a local platform to advocate for polio eradication and the safety of the vaccine, extending his critical role in the polio programme.
Dara Khan adds, “The contribution of Dr Taj in polio eradication is commendable. His goodwill is playing a very positive role within our community to remove these misconceptions.”
His impact is also wide ranging, reaching multiple different families.
The proof? In April, thanks to the intensive efforts of Dr Taj and others, no parents or caregivers in Killa Saifullah refused vaccination.
That’s 70,690 children who now have lifelong protection from polio.