Momentum toward polio eradication continues to build in Pakistan, including efforts to take advantage of improved security in parts of the country.
On 8 July, the Pakistan PolioPlus Committee led a polio awareness seminar in Mingora, located in the Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. More than 120 representatives from Rotary International, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF, along with national and local health officials, tribal and religious leaders, and others, took part.
"[It] was the first major event after the opening of the Swat Valley," says committee chair Aziz Memon. "Full security was extended by the police department and army to ensure the safety of people."
At the seminar, it was reported that after reestablishing security in the Swat Valley earlier this year, Pakistan’s army began immunizing children against polio at 15 checkpoints. By July, only six were needed. The Ministry of Health now stockpiles oral polio vaccine at the checkpoints for use during National Immunization Days (NIDs).
In addition, the governor of the province inaugurated supplementary immunization activities in May and has committed to ensuring health workers’ access to children in security-compromised areas.
After presentations by the representatives at the seminar, participants took part in a question-and-answer session and offered suggestions for improving the region’s efforts to end polio.
The event "was a grand success," Memon says. "The news of Rotary having a polio workshop was all over Swat. We feel we have sent a message to eradicate polio, and have requested the local community leaders to lend a hand. We will hold more such workshops so that no new polio cases arise from this region."
The seminar is characteristic of Pakistan’s persistence toward eradicating the disease, as well as the family of Rotary’s. NIDs held 12-14 July in the country reached almost 34 million children under age five. Rotarians, Rotaractors, and Interactors in Karachi braved temperatures as high as 120 degrees to vaccinate children in their homes, in alleys, in marketplaces, and elsewhere. They also handed out caps, stickers, pencils, and other gifts to the children.
"Every single worker counts in the fight against polio," Shoukat Ali, UNICEF polio officer for Sind Province, told Abdul Mohee Kazi, Rotaract District 3271 PolioPlus Chair, after the NIDs. "The [immunization] team in Korangi Town [Karachi] was really happy to see your workforce with them, and it was very well highlighted in the results, as this area got 100 percent coverage by independent monitoring. It is really a success story."