Dr.Tufail Ahmed, Health Specialist

The sky was cloudy; it was raining on and off. Rain makes life difficult for people in Khyber Pkahtunkhwa during the winter season. It was the third day of the first national immunisation campaign. Shaheen Bibi wrapped well to protect herself from cold and winter. She went to Kulachi Wala village which was five km away from her home. Shaheen’s assigned team member did not show up due to bad weather, so her son Inamullah (20) accompanied her.

Shaheen Bibi administrated vaccine during the polio campaign. @NEOC/2022
Shaheen Bibi administrated vaccine during the polio campaign. @NEOC/2022

Shaheen Bibi is one of many frontline Polio workers who are working tirelessly to protect children from lifelong paralysis by providing vaccines. She is from Chah Pahor, a poor village in the rural part of Lunda Union Council in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. She has been associated with the Polio Programme for over a decade and also serves as a part-time traditional birth attendant. Being the sole bread earner for her family, Shaheen needs to take care of her husband Inayatullah and support her only son’s education.

A tragic encounter

Despite bad weather, Shaheen was determined. Pregnant for above six months, it was not an easy task to continue working in this weather.

Shaheen had to battle the pouring rain and slippery, muddy roads on her way to Kulaci village. Suddenly, she lost her balance and slipped before her son could get a grip on her. After a few seconds, Shaheen discovered herself on the ground with severe pain in her lower abdomen. The trauma caused her to go into labour. With the support of the women from the neighbourhood, Shaheen delivered a premature lifeless baby boy.

After getting the news of this incident, the Chairman of the Union Council Polio Eradication Committee (UPEC), Qamar Abbas and the assigned District Monitor Taskeen amongst others rushed to the location.

We saw Shaheen Bibi carrying her dead child in a handbag wrapped with plastic in one hand and a vaccine carrier in the other. The heartbreaking sight shook everyone present there. We insisted her for a medical check-up in the hospital, but she just wanted to go home and said “nothing more could be done now.” Later, the child was given a proper burial,

said Qamar Abbas, UPEC Chairman.

“I conceived after twenty years. My husband and I were immensely happy; it was nothing less than a miracle. We planned to name him Qismatullah”, said grieving Shaheen. “I have sacrificed my own child for the well-being of other children of Pakistan,” exhausted Shaheen continued with tears in her eyes.

Dedicated Soul

Shaheen is one of many female frontline workers who are real heroes in the fight against polio in Pakistan. They have been working tirelessly and have shown exceptional bravery and dedication towards keeping their community safe from the deadly disease.

Shaheen Bibi accompanied by her son and husband is in conversation with the writer. @NEOC/2022

Shaheen Bibi accompanied by her son and husband is in conversation with the writer. @NEOC/2022

This story needs to be heard and shared further. Sacrificing a child to save a nation, indeed, Shaheen is the true hero of the Polio Programme. Her strength and determination to continue working for the programme bewilder me. We must not forget Qismat- the first unborn martyr of the Polio Programme in Pakistan,

said Dr Tufail Ahmed, Health Specialist, Peshawar.

The success of Polio eradication efforts in Pakistan is the contributions of committed individuals like Shaheen Bibi, who are working behind the scenes to save lives. The Polio Programme has witnessed numerous sacrifices over the past decade. These include martyrs from frontline workers and staff of law enforcement agencies. These sacrifices further renewed polio workers’ zeal and commitment to eradicating the polio virus from Pakistan.