Via Dawn.com: Underpaid, overworked and imperilled – the plight of lady health workers. Excerpt:
Farhat Sultana, 40, has had stones and tennis balls hurled at her, wolf whistles blown by none other than the fathers whose children she vaccinated, even cheap one-liners like “humein katray kyun nahin pilati?” (Why don’t you administer the drops to us), followed by winks and guffaws.
Having risen to be a lady health supervisor (LHS), she is now area in-charge of the anti-polio campaign in Baldia Town and has been working with polio immunisation since 1994, when the programme started.
Had it not been for this brigade of 90,000 or so lady health workers and countless volunteers, whatever success Pakistan has witnessed today in bringing polio figures down so drastically would have been difficult.
With 56 cases recorded in 2012, Pakistan has made good progress, compared with 192 last year, according to the government. Globally, cases of death and paralysis from polio have been reduced from 350,000 in 1998 to less than 1,000 last year.
In the last quarter century, through global efforts the number of endemic countries from 120 has been reduced to just three – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
And so while these battalions of Pakistani field workers have met all kinds of abuses with dignity and grit (partly because most LHWs were given the ultimatum that if they did not cooperate their employment would be revoked), today, after six women have lost their lives, the question foremost on their minds is if the paltry sum they are being paid to eliminate the debilitating paediatric disease from this country is really worth it.
The killings may also have serious political ramifications for the multibillion-dollar global campaign. International donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have been generously supporting these three-day campaigns aimed at some 35 million Pakistani children younger than five, employing 225,000 health workers.
These volunteers, belonging to the area, are paid Rs 1,000 [US$10.26] for the three-days to cover from 100 to 150 houses a day. Their supervisors are paid Rs 3,000 [US$30.78].
“But it is actually more than three days as they are given a one-day refresher/training a week before the campaign begins,” said Sultana, who supervises teams in Baldia Town.
These trainings include teaching the field workers how to interact with parents, warding off unsavoury elements and behaviour, tackling refusals, and then filling up the pro-forma so that they can provide the field information accurately to their respective area in-charge.
But, according to Nasim Munir, president of the Karachi chapter of the All Pakistan Lady Health Workers Association, these workers do more than their share of work.
“Our field workers do the work of the communications officers and the social mobilisers hired by Unicef and WHO,” said Munir who has been working on polio edatication for the last 13 years.
This grouse was echoed by quite a few government-employed LHWs and the lady health supervisors (LHS).
“They are supposed to handle refusals by motivating parents who are not convinced, distribute posters and pamphlets before the campaign begins, talk to clerics of the mosques. Instead, all these tasks are lugged on to the field workers because they are from the area, know the language, are familiar with the culture and sentiments of the people and they have direct access to their homes,” explained Munir.
“Why can’t our women get the kind of high salaries and perks that these people get who have been hired by international agencies?”WHO and UNICEF have issued a joint statement condemning the killings and attacks. And several tweeters have reminded us that Maryn McKenna saw this coming and has comments on this crime.