Masooma Qurban, Communication Officer

As the harsh winter set in and the snowflakes fell on the small village, Bibi Marjana, a 26-year-old Community Health Worker (CHW), her mother-in-law Noor Nama, and her father-in-law Hidayatullah braved the icy weather. They set to their mission to protect the under-five children in their community from the crippling polio virus.

 Marjana, a mother of five children, had been working in the Polio Eradication Initiative for the past three years in Pishin, one of the high-risk districts in Balochistan. Her husband worked in a hotel, and her mother-in-law had recently joined the programme to support the family due to the skyrocketing inflation in Pakistan.

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The two women work in Tehsil Barshore, a hard-to-reach and scattered area where some villages cannot access cars or motorcycles. “During the campaign, I have to walk two to five kilometres on foot from one house to another in some of the villages,” said Marjana. Marjana's target is to vaccinate 84 children during campaign days, less than other CHWs' targets. “ My target is less, but my work area is challenging, requiring her to climb mountains to reach children. The snowfall made travelling through these areas even more difficult, resulting in delays in completing the target,” she continued. However, Marjana and Noor Nama were determined to reach every child and perform their duties with zeal and honesty.

“My daughter-in-law is working for a noble cause. I joined her to play my part for the welfare of my people. In this way, I also become able to support my family,” said Noor Nama.

Pishin was a high-risk district for polio, and even though the province had not had a polio case for almost two years, there is always a threat of the virus circulating due to extensive population movement in and out of the district from other provinces and parts of Afghanistan. “Thanks to the community health workers, we do not have any polio cases in the last years. Female Community Health Workers (CHWs) are recruited from the locality, from the same community and area. They earned the community’s trust and access to cover newborns in the house,” said Kaleemullah, the District Communication Officer.

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 The overall ratio of female CHWs is around 70 per cent in Pishin district. However, the percentage is even lower in rural areas like Tehsil Barshore. Therefore, having female CHWs from such areas is a significant asset. They work as breadwinners, support their families, administer polio drops, and raise awareness about routine immunization.

“It was challenging to have females as CHWs in these districts, but with continuous efforts, we motivated many families in the community to support and join the Polio programme,” explained Mubeen, the Tehsil Communication Officer. “We have now had 50 female frontline CHWs out of 96 in Tehsil Barshore of Pishin.

Hidayatullah, the father-in-law of Marjana, often helps them to commute with his tractor. However, the areas are scattered and challenging to reach, requiring them to walk miles on foot to reach even a single child living at the top of the mountain.

Community-based volunteers (CBVs) in Balochistan are the crucial link to strengthening disease surveillance and knowledge, increasing vaccine coverage, and providing basic health information to families.

“ I applauded the efforts of female workers, and they are true heroes of the Polio programme. Despite facing cultural, societal, security, and environmental hardships, these female workers are dedicated to wiping out polio from the country and saving hundreds and thousands of children from lifelong disability,” said Syed Zahid Shah, Coordinator of the Provincial Emergency Operation Center Balochistan, Polio Programme.