High risk - no reward: Fighting crippling disease leaves workers financially crippled

Some polio workers have been unpaid for over two months; WHO says matter will be resolved soon.

Photo Myra Iqbal/sehrish Wasif January 24, 2013
A polio worker sits in the lobby of the Polyclinic Hospital to administer polio drops. He and his colleagues have not been paid since November 2012. PHOTO: MYRA IQBAL/EXPRESS


Over 40 polio vaccinators serving at various transit points in Islamabad have gone unpaid since November 2012. To top it off, they are also not being provided with any kind of security.

Talking to The Express Tribune, vaccinators said transit points were established by the Capital Development Authority’s (CDA) Directorate of Health Services last November at five locations — Polyclinic Hospital, Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims), Motorway Chowk, Marghazar Zoo and Tarnol — aiming to administer polio drops to every child passing by there.

They were hired by the directorate and were trained for this purpose.

Moreover, after recent attacks on the polio teams in parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi, the vaccinators were asked to dispense polio drops at the transit points instead of going door-to door.

However, the public was not informed about these transit points through any awareness campaign. The vaccinators — who work in two shifts — were seen asking every passerby with children whether or not they had vaccinated their children against the crippling disease.

Syed Waqar Hussain, one of the vaccinators sitting outside Polyclinic, said, “Our life is at stake, we are sitting here since November 21 without any security, and instead of encouraging us, the concerned department is demoralising us by not paying our salaries.”

He said they are supposed to be paid Rs250 per day. “We are only provided with few chairs and a table. Other things have to be arranged from our own pockets,” he claimed.

The vast majority of polio team members are youngsters trying to make ends meet or pay their college and university fees, said Hussain, who is an MBA student. Every morning at 8am, he gets to the transit point and works till 2 pm, at which point he heads off to class.

“For the past three years, I have been looking for a better job but haven’t gotten one. I cannot quit working here as it is the only place from where I can earn money to support my family and pay my university fees,” he said. Hussain said every time they ask for their salaries, they are being told to return in two days, which is becoming an endless cycle.

Mohammad Adeel, a 21-year-old first year student, works at a shop in the morning and as a vaccinator from 2 pm onwards.

Although unpaid for the said time period, when asked whether he is afraid of the risk to life his job carries, he replied, “Yes, but only a bit. I am more concerned with helping save millions of children from falling victim to polio.”

CDA Health Director Dr Hassan Urooj admitted that there is an ongoing salary issue but said the World Health Organisation (WHO) is responsible for paying the vaccinators’ salaries.

WHO Emergency Coordinator for Polio Eradication Dr Elias Durry said that according to the directives of the PM’s office, the WHO is currently implementing the direct disbursement mechanism, through which frontline polio workers across the country will be directly paid.

He said that in Islamabad, only 23 polio teams out of almost 400 are having difficulty in getting their payments, and the problem will be resolved soon.

Comementing on polio in Islamabad, he said it is a cause of concern that no campaigns are being carried out in the capital, even though neighbouring Rawalpindi has successfully carried out polio campaigns recently.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2013.


Sajida | 8 years ago | Reply


Wadeira ka Beta | 8 years ago | Reply

you don't need heroes when you have people like these guys around. They are true champions and instead of taking care of them we neglect their needs. Sad.

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