Pakistan's media joins the push to end polio
Members of the Rotary Club of Dadu, Sind (above), and the Rotaract Club of Hyderabad vaccinate children during Pakistan's National Immunization Days in March. Photos courtesy of Shakil Hasan Ansari
State and private television stations in Pakistan have joined together to help monitor and promote the nation's polio eradication effort. During the country's 16-18 March National Immunization Days (NIDs), seven private stations participated in a national Polio Control Cell at the Pakistan Television Centre in Islamabad.
The stations promoted a toll-free number, which parents and others could call to report areas missed by health workers.
“All the calls were responded to immediately by a team of volunteers, who noted the complaints and contacted authorities to dispatch vaccinators to the missed areas,” says Past District Governor Shakil Hasan Ansari, a member of the Southeast Asia Regional PolioPlus Committee. The TV stations also ran a ticker across the screen, highlighting complaints received from parents whose children hadn't been immunized, followed by notices of the actions taken through the cell.
According to Ansari, the cell received 14,427 calls during the NIDs, enabling teams to immunize 22,300 children who otherwise would have been missed. As part of the effort, the National Database and Registration Authority dispatched more than 100 vans to immunize children in less accessible areas of the country.
Ansari says the continued use of the Polio Control Cell during NIDs and Subnational Immunization Days (SNIDs) "will make the teams of vaccinators more vigilant and answerable as to why the areas or houses were missed."
During a visit to the cell, Pakistan's minister for health, Mir Aijaz Hussain Jakhrani, underscored the role of the media as an independent monitor in the country's fight against polio and urged other media organizations to take part in the cell.
"Reaching every child up to five years of age is a task which can only be accomplished with the collaboration of all stakeholders," he said, adding that the media must be proactive in waging war against disease and disability.
One of Pakistan's largest cell phone companies, Mobilink, has also joined the polio eradication effort. Shortly before the 13-15 April SNIDs, it plans to send out millions of text messages to parents in areas at high risk for poliovirus circulation, advising them to have their children vaccinated. Health officials say such innovative tactics are needed to ensure maximum immunization coverage throughout the country.
"I have plans to join the national Polio Control Cell for the next SNIDs. All Rotary clubs have been informed of the NIDs' and SNIDs' dates," says Ansari, adding that both Rotarians and Rotaractors are supporting the cell's efforts by immunizing children missed by health department teams.
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