Kohat (KP): It is hardly six months since female social mobilizers have been hired in two high risk union council of district Kohat yet the difference is felt already as the coverage of children has improved and the trend of still missed and still refusals is on the decline.

Communication for Development Officer Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mr Ejaz ur Rehman informed that three female social mobilizers have been hired in October 2016 in two union councils to address the long standing issues there.

There was a long standing demand from the local Afghan Refugees Camp to field only female staff in the area because most of the men from that camp have gone abroad to earn a livelihood for their families and ladies at the homes were not allowed to open doors for the male vaccinators, he added.

Moreover, Mr Ejaz elaborated that the number of refusals was high in one of these two UCs due to male teams. Therefore, he said that female staff was hired to make up for these deficiencies and to fix the remaining gaps in immunization.

District Communication Officer Kohat Hidayat Afridi informed that since female social mobilizers were hired in UCs the number of still not available (NA) children was 46 which was decreased to 18 in December 2016 whereas refusals were brought down to zero from 49. He said that these union councils were high risk and have poor means of communications. Besides Afghan Population people from various parts of the province and country were living there thus making it a challenge for the communication and vaccination teams.

It was in this backdrop that female Social Moblizers (SMs) were hired for the area which was against the local trend as local female were never hired in these areas before, he added. District Health Officer Kohat Dr Azam Wazir while commenting on communication strategies in the district said that communication plans were chalked out in accordance with operational challenges which is paying off. He said that the district has improved a lot in terms of missed children and refusal coverage since the communication network teams have been engaged. The number of reported refusals was around 4000 which has been decreased to 400 now.

Likewise, Dr Azam added that more than 30000 NA were recorded in 2014 while the number has come down to 22000 in 2017 as the total target of the district remains 194037. He hoped that if the teams continue to work hard with the same spirit and zeal the day was not far when the district will be polio free. The government was fully alive to its responsibility and was making every possible effort to give the last push to the disease and protect the children from lifelong disability. He said that deputy commissioner chair the evening meeting to know the difficulties and problems in the vaccination and take timely actions to fix them by taking it up with the concerned quarters.

Team Leader UNICEF Dr Johar Khan said that female teams were the priority in view of its multifarious benefits and the partner organizations were supporting health department in hiring of female staff to ensure maximum coverage of children. However, there were some cultural constraints in some of the districts due to which male teams were working in those areas. He said that female teams were allowed to enter the house which minimizes the chances of missed children while male teams can’t avail this advantage. It is relevant to mention here that District Kohat, a gateway to southern districts and some agencies, has two tehsils including Kohat and Lachi and is housing heterogeneous communities and tribes from different parts of the country.