Women Health Workers Hold the Key to Eradicating Polio

After years of engagement with local communities to battle outbreaks and provide essential services, female frontline workers in Pakistan are now being offered a seat at the policymaking table. The benefits are likely to last well after polio is finally defeated.

ISLAMABAD – Anyone who witnesses a polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan will notice something remarkable: in most areas, the majority of health workers moving house to house to vaccinate children against this highly infectious paralytic disease are women.

But despite their outsize role in providing life-saving vaccinations and other essential services to children in every corner of the country, these frontline workers are rarely consulted on matters of health policy. This year, as Pakistan strives to eradicate wild polio once and for all, input and feedback from the women leading these efforts on the ground must be incorporated into the program’s design. There is no hope of success otherwise.

Today, wild polio – a scourge that once caused irreversible paralysis, or even death, all around the world – remains endemic in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Vaccination is the key to stopping this virus once and for all, and in Pakistan, the success of vaccination campaigns largely depends on female health workers. In many communities, women can enter homes where men cannot and, as a result, are able to build lasting trust with families.

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