As an impenetrable blanket of smog descended over Multan, female polio workers risked their health in order to prevent children under the age of five from falling into the clutches of the crippling disease.
Several cities in southern Punjab including Multan, Khanewal, Vehari, Layyah, Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur have been affected by the phenomenon which hindered the four-day polio campaign that was underway in the district from November 12 to November 16.
“Approximately, 0.14 million children were supposed to be vaccinated during the first day of the campaign. However, despite the extreme weather conditions and the traffic blockade, polio workers managed to inoculate almost 0.15 million children,” said Multan District Health Officer Zafar Abbas.
The success rate for the very first day of the campaign was 104%, he maintained, adding that polio workers were given special masks along with covered kits.
A combination of the words ‘smoke’ and ‘fog’, smog occurs when hazardous chemicals and pollutants are released when fuel is burnt. When these pollutants mix with the atmosphere, it results in smog which makes it increasingly difficult for people to breathe.
Shamshad Bibi, a female polio worker, stated that the quality of air has worsened. Breathing in such polluted air becomes extremely difficult when one is in the field, she emphasised.
“The rise in carbon emissions and air pollution also reduces visibility. This means that we require more time to cover an assigned area. Further, due to decreased visibility and the cold weather, traffic proceeds at a slower pace than usual,” she explained.
But we classify these as minor issues. We absolutely cannot neglect our duties whether the weather is hot or cold, she stated.
Umme-Kulsoon, another polio worker, said that toxic pollutants can cause a variety of health problems for workers in the field.
“Majority of the workers have irritated eyes and have difficulty breathing when in the field. Our vision is affected so badly that it makes it makes it impossible for us to open our eyes,” she recounted.
In spite of this, we remain steadfast because all of us are aware that the anti-polio drive is a necessity, she added.
Multan District Health Authority CEO Dr Munawwar Abbas said that the district health government is fully supporting polio workers in meeting the challenges posed by the weather. Meetings are conducted day-to-day to observe their performance, he stated.
On the other hand, Multan Deputy Commissioner Mudassir Riaz directed that strict action be taken against those educational institutions which are refusing to administer polio vaccines to their students.
A special task force, which includes officials from the district administration, has been constituted in this regard. The task force will seal such schools and cases will be registered against them, the deputy commissioner warned.
District Monitoring Officer Nasir Shahzad Dogar revealed that two private schools located near Multan Police Lines and Harram Gate refused to inoculate their students. However, when members of the task force and the police reached the spot, they managed to vaccinate over 100 children.
He appreciated the dedication of female polio workers who showed unwavering strength and courage despite the obstacles stacked against them.
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