“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
By Alina A. Visram, manager, Pakistan National PolioPlus Committee
When I first joined Pakistan’s PolioPlus Committee (PNPPC) as a manager close to eight years ago, polio eradication seemed within our reach. I used the opportunity to study poliomyelitis beyond just perceiving it as “a crippling disease.” I researched the causes and consequences; the types of polio virus; modes of prevention; and how elusive the virus can be given the right conditions.
Then in 2012, the dynamics of my country changed. We were faced with hostile militants, who refused to allow polio teams to vaccinate children in their territory. Our front line workers were regularly targeted for their work during campaigns.
Children were deprived of polio vaccine in several regions occupied by the militants making it inaccessible and hard to reach. Common myths and misconceptions were rife in most backward communities. Our biggest hurdle was “how do we change their mindset,” while they eyed us with suspicion and disdain.
We expanded our motley crew to a larger team. Together we worked closely with our polio partners to devise strategies and innovative approaches to overcome the odds; through placing Resource Centers in high risk districts; targeting nomads and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) through Permanent Transit Posts (PTPs); creating awareness in illiterate communities through speaking books; conducting workshops with enlightened religious clerics; and encouraging Rotary clubs to hold health camps in impoverished districts.
Meanwhile, polio cases spiraled across the country and in 2014 we reported over 300 cases of the wild poliovirus. In the years that followed, we worked with unwavering diligence and commitment in collaboration with the government of Pakistan to restrict polio transmission. Today, we have only five cases of polio stemming from the wild virus and only 11 globally, as of the end of September.
World Polio Day 24 October was established by Rotary International to commemorate the birth of Jonas Salk, who led the first team to develop a vaccine against poliomyelitis. It marks the long and arduous journey all endemic countries have struggled against, to eradicate polio.
The last mile is the hardest, but we are so close to the finish line.