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Afghan women leading the battle against polio

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Photo essay for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017

Thousands of remarkable female vaccinators, supervisors, campaign coordinators, surveillance volunteers and social mobilizers play a critical role in Afghanistan’s efforts to eradicate polio. The progress the polio programme has witnessed in the past years would not have been possible without the hard work and commitment of courageous women who are dedicated to protecting children and making polio history.

Through this series of photographs, meet some of the brave and hard-working Afghan women who are leading the battle against this paralysing disease, bringing Afghanistan, and the world, closer to eradicating polio forever.

International Women's Day

Credit: WHO Afghanistan/R.Akbar 24-year-old Sakina marks a child’s finger with indelible ink to show he has been vaccinated. Sakina works as a volunteer polio vaccinator in Balkh province, northern Afghanistan. She is one of the over 66 000 frontline workers committed to protecting children’s health around the country. Women like Sakina are at the heart of Afghanistan’s polio eradication effort, creating ties with communities and building trust that enables vaccinators to reach every single child in all corners of the country.
Credit: WHO Afghanistan/R.Akbar Saheeb Jaan, a shrinekeeper in Bamyan province, has been a volunteer reporter for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP), a major indicator for polio, for the past 8 years. The hard work of AFP reporters like her ensures that the poliovirus is continuously tracked and every case of polio is found. “If I see a family come to my shrine with a sick child having weakness or paralysis, I report it to the doctors. WHO has given me a referral notebook so that I can get their information and convince them to call the doctors to make sure their child does not have polio,” she says. “I became a volunteer because it is a good cause and helps save children’s lives. I am happy and proud to be a part of the polio eradication campaign.”
Credit: WHO Afghanistan/R.Akbar Qodsia Haidary works as a polio campaign monitor in Bamyan province. “During the campaign, I monitor the work of the volunteers assigned to me. I guide them if they have any questions and move around with them to make sure they are following the procedures we have trained them on,” she says. Qodsia has been part of the polio eradication effort for 2 years. “I always feel proud when I receive good reviews for my work when the campaign ends.”
Credit: WHO Afghanistan/R.Akbar Nasima Rajabi works as a nurse in a children’s hospital in Balkh province. She has been an AFP reporting volunteer for 2 years, checking and reporting all children with signs of flaccid paralysis with sudden onset. “I started to work as an AFP reporting volunteer because I know how dangerous AFP can be. I want to be a part of the polio programme so I can contribute to maintaining the health of our children,” she says. Nasima is now in her fourth year of medical school. “I am very proud and happy that my family allowed me to go to medical school and pursue my dreams.”
Credit: WHO Afghanistan/S.Ramo Vaccinator Zeeba gives 11-month-old Rahman 2 drops of the oral polio vaccine at a WHO-supported mobile clinic for internally displaced persons in Kabul. “A few years ago we had some problems with families not accepting vaccines. We educated them about the benefits and safety of vaccines and worked a lot to convince the camp’s respected elders. Now all families bring their children to get vaccines here regularly. I am happy I can do my part for helping children grow up healthy,” Zeeba says.
Credit: WHO Afghanistan/R.Akbar Nasrin was born in Kabul but for the past 15 years she has lived in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province, where she now works as a polio campaign coordinator. She has dedicated 11 years of her life working for the polio eradication programme. “When I see people approach me with so much respect and put so much faith in me, I feel overwhelmed with pride. I want to make sure I do not let them down and help them in any way I possibly can. My family is supportive of my work. They are proud that I am part of an initiative that prevents children from suffering from detrimental and fatal diseases.”
Credit: WHO Afghanistan/S.Ramo Elina prepares the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) to administer to Maryam, a 3-year-old Afghan refugee returning from Pakistan. In 2016, over 122 000 returnee and refugee children were vaccinated with OPV and over 32 000 with IPV with the support of WHO. Elina has worked as a vaccinator for 3 years. “I am a mother of 3 daughters and really enjoy my job as a nurse and vaccinator. I want to help our children and make sure all Afghan children can be spared from polio paralysis by giving them the polio vaccine.”
Credit: WHO Afghanistan/G. Elham 18-year-old Masuma has been vaccinating children in Kandahar province for over 3 years. “If people like me won’t step up and work for important causes like children’s health, who will? We are all responsible for progress and development in our country,” Masuma says. “People in the neighbourhood know me and they are happy for the work I do for their children. My family has also always been supportive of all my achievements. I love children and I want to see them as healthy as possible.”
Credit: WHO Afghanistan/G. Elham Sakina works as a vaccinator at a health centre in Kandahar province. “Because there are not that many female vaccinators in this area, many mothers prefer to come here as they feel more comfortable if the vaccinator is a woman. People in my community know that I am working for polio eradication and they say it is a good thing. There are families who say that women should stay at home but this has never been a problem for me.”
Credit: WHO Afghanistan/R.Akbar “My favourite part about the polio campaign is attending meetings after a long day of work and getting positive feedback from my supervisors. I am very proud to have become a supervisor after having been a volunteer vaccinator for 5 years,” says Sakina from Bamyan province. “In the past, almost all supervisors were men. It was difficult for female volunteers like me to explain our problems to them. I am proud that I am a supervisor now so that I can help other female with any challenges they face. This is a very empowering experience. I want to encourage all my female friends and relatives to work hard and become independent and successful.”

Credit: WHO Afghanistan/R.Akbar

24-year-old Sakina marks a child’s finger with indelible ink to show he has been vaccinated. Sakina works as a volunteer polio vaccinator in Balkh province, northern Afghanistan. She is one of the over 66 000 frontline workers committed to protecting children’s health around the country. Women like Sakina are at the heart of Afghanistan’s polio eradication effort, creating ties with communities and building trust that enables vaccinators to reach every single child in all corners of the country.


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