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Naseem Munir prepares breakfast for her husband and three children then prepares for work. She’s a health worker, dispensing important preventative medicine to children in the suburban sprawl of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.
It should be routine. It’s not.
Naseem knows when she walks out the door she may never return.
At least forty health workers, most of them poorly paid women, have been shot and killed in the last two years while vaccinating children against polio. Naseem’s been shot at and three of her close team members were killed in January.
Still she perseveres, risking her life to do the vital ground work so that the crippling, even deadly disease polio can be cauterised.
“This is my mission. I see myself as a soldier. I don’t want to see my country paralysed.”NASSEEM MUNIR Vaccinator
Attacks against the polio workers have been orchestrated and directed by the Pakistan Taliban and other extreme Islamist groups who claim the inoculation program is a western plot to undermine the country. The violent campaign has intensified since it emerged that the effort to track and kill Osama Bin Laden was enabled in part by a sham vaccination program run by a Pakistani doctor.
Now many Pakistanis see the vaccinators as spies, and the vaccines as a dangerous plot to contaminate Muslims or make them infertile.
It’s made the task of combating this dangerous disease in a seething, highly populated nation all the more difficult. And for as long as polio remains active in Pakistan (and two other nations Afghanistan and Nigeria) it remains a threat to the rest of the world.
Recent outbreaks in China and the Middle East have been traced back to Pakistan. The World Health Organization has now declared polio as an international health emergency and from June, all Pakistanis traveling overseas will have to prove their vaccinations are up to date or face travel bans.
Foreign Correspondent heads out with vaccinators and into hospital wards where doctors are trying to deal with infant and child polio cases before too much irreversible damage is done.
Wacht Video on http://www.abc.net.au
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