By Yetenayet Kebede Fita

“I am waiting to see the day when polio is eradicated from Pakistan; waiting for the time when I travel anywhere in the world and people no longer point fingers and say: ‘you came from a country that is exporting polio virus.’ I am impatient until I see those remarks removed from my country,”says Mudassir Hassan, a Union Council Medical Officer (UCMO) working in Baldia Town, located in Karachi.

Frontline Health Workers acquire Communication Skills at training session in Karachi ©UNICEF/PAK2015/Kebede
Frontline Health Workers acquire Communication Skills at training session in Karachi
UNICEF/PAK2015/Kebede

Being one of the last two polio endemic countries Pakistan, reported 85 percent of the polio cases in 2014. The country is now facing the challenge of curbing the circulation of Wild Polio Virus from its territory by mid-2016, a challenge that requires tough and well prepared teams; a task laid on the shoulders of each and every Pakistani and their allies. Fortunately, the people, the country, and the polio eradication partners are determined to get the work done.

The polio eradication initiative in Pakistan has been faced with several hurdles that mostly emanated from traditional and religious misconceptions and misinformation.

Referring to his six years of service as a frontline polio worker, Mudassir blames illiteracy as the major culprit for the alarming spread of polio virus in Pakistan. Mudassir says: “polio is a disease of illiteracy. We have several segments of the community that to date don’t even know what polio is, or how to prevent polio, or about the benefit of vaccinating a child. Otherwise, polio should have been eradicated long ago.”

A dental surgeon by profession, Mudassir is working as a Union Council Medical Officer (UCMO) in Baldia. He is in charge of ensuring the successful implementation of each and every task required for national and sub-national polio immunization days on polio. “…mobilizing a child from a refusal community is one of the challenging tasks. Parents refuse to vaccinate their children because they don’t know about vaccines or because they are misinformed about polio and ways of preventing it.”

Pakistan and its polio eradication partners however, are determined to leave no stone unturned. They are now delivering a series of capacity building trainings across the country.

Jointly organized by UNICEF, WHO and the Federal and Provincial Emergency Operation Centers on Polio, the training programs are aimed at equipping more than 24,000 vaccination teams with up-to-date skills and information they need to successfully conduct upcoming National and Sub-national Immunization Days (NIDs) on Polio.

Mudassir (right) at role play as part of the training ©UNICEF/PAK2015/Kebede
Mudassir (right) at role play as part of the training
UNICEF/PAK2015/Kebede
What makes these training programs different from previous ones is the use of RapidPro’s text messaging system to evaluate and monitor the training sessions in real-time. With this system, master trainers and Area-in-Charges (AICs) are reporting the number of trainees, the challenges they faced, and overall progress of the programs.

Trainings have already been given to master trainers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Quetta, Sindh and Punjab provinces have already been conducted. These master trainers are expected to cascade the trainings to Area-in-Charges and vaccinators who are working at the frontline of the fight against polio.

The capacity building programs cover technical and communication contents that enhance the daily work performance of teams: topics ranging from micro plan preparation to tally sheet reporting as well as the Continuous Community Protected Vaccination.

Topics covered in the interactive training programs include, keeping track of children who are not vaccinated during vaccination campaigns, house and finger marking, and interpersonal communication skills. These training programs also include presentations, role-plays and other adult learning methodologies and tools.

Actively attending the training held in Karachi, Mudassir plans to impart the training at the Union Council. Mudassir also plans to train of Lady Health Workers in his town. “I will give training to Area-in-Charges; and monitor the training of vaccinators myself,” Mudassir adds.

Thousands of frontline health workers at various levels will benefit from the planned series of trainings. Ultimately, more than 4,600 Area-in-charges and 24,000 vaccination teams (over 48,000 Vaccinators) will be well equipped with skills and information they need before the national immunization day in September.

Baldia is located in the Sindh province, considered a high risk polio corridor. However, in 2014 it only reported one case of wild polio virus. The town is never safe from the threats of polio virus importation from neighboring towns and union councils – and that’s why Mudassir reaffirms his conviction.

“…I may have done much…but still it’s far beyond enough…there is a long way to go. Everybody has to contribute to the eradication process otherwise it will not be eradicated…”

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