A virus that can cause irreversible paralysis and mainly strikes children under five, polio cannot be cured, only prevented through vaccination. In Pakistan, International Medical Corps’ teams recently took part in National Immunization Days (NIDs) – organized by the local Ministry of Health in cooperation with WHO – to successfully vaccinate 100% of the target population in camps for Afghan refugees as well as host communities in the surrounding areas.
Polio was largely eradicated through the WHO-supported Global Polio Eradication Initiative established in 1988 which led to a 99 percent decrease of the virus worldwide. Although there have been recent outbreaks of the disease in areas including central Africa as of 2010, only four countries in the world remain polio-endemic: Nigeria, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
International Medical Corps has worked in Pakistan since 1984, providing primary health care services to internally displaced Pakistanis in the frontier areas and comprehensive basic health services to Afghan refugees living in the country. In Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, our teams are providing community-based primary healthcare services as well as working to respond to and prevent gender-based violence among Afghan refugees in seven camps.
Throughout 2010, International Medical Corps participated in the NIDs campaign to implement polio vaccinations to children under five in Afghan camps including Koga (District Buner), Baraki I, Baraki II (District Swabi), Mera Kachori, Baghbanan, Zandai and Mattani in Peshawar as well as the local adjacent communities. As polio vaccines must be administered multiple times in order for a child to be completely immune, NIDs were held every 30-40 days throughout the year.
“Initially, we were not aware of the polio vaccine and thought it might be dangerous for our children,” said one parent in Mera Kachori camp. “International Medical Corps, through health education sessions, informed us about the purpose and benefits of immunization. Since then all our family and neighbors participate actively in NIDs campaign and bring our children to be vaccinated against polio.”
Through 11 NIDs in 2010, International Medical Corps covered a catchment population of 140,202 Afghan refugees. Our teams successfully vaccinated approximately 23,600 children under five during each NID which resulted in 100% vaccination coverage by the end of 2010. In total, International Medical Corps administered 259,780 polio vaccine doses.
“We are very thankful to International Medical Corps for providing health services at the Basic Health Unit and at our doorstep free of charge,” said another parent whose child had just been vaccinated.
International Medical Corps encouraged community participation and coordinated with community elders from the camps who helped communicate the availability of vaccinations and other health services to newly arrived refugees.