Eradicating Polio in Afghanistan

Women at the frontline of reaching every child

Tamara Abu Sham
polio mobilizer
UNICEF Afghanistan/2020
12 February 2020

Kandahar, Afghanistan-

Amidst the extreme heat of Kandahar City in southern Afghanistan, Anis Faizy a 24-year-old polio social mobiliser moves with confidence between houses where she talks to families that refuse to vaccinate their children against polio. Her energy is endless.  She tops that with her smile and warm way of talking with women and men. Anis is a skilled midwife with passion for her community. Few people know that Anis used to be a tailor at a young age and became a social mobiliser in 2016.  She now she leads a team of 56 community outreach workers in her neighbourhood. ‘’I want to help my people. Polio is a danger to every child, and we should eradicate it,’’ says Anis.

When Anis started her job, her father told her ‘’you do what is best for you’’ but neighbours in the socially conservative society were not impressed. She was told by others ‘’you could be killed while working in the community, it is unsafe for women, and women must stay at home.” The social barriers didn’t stop Anis from pursuing her passion in working for polio communication teams in Kandahar. Anis recalls ‘’I faced tough refusal families who denied their children the polio vaccine. A woman refused to vaccinate her younger sister. After one a year, the sister died of measles as she hasn’t been vaccinated against it. Now, the same woman has a baby girl and she frequently takes her baby to the health centre for vaccination. She unfortunately learnt a difficult and painful lesson.

Over the years, Anis progressed from a social mobiliser to an area communication team supervisor. In September 2019, she applied for the position of District Communication Officer within the Immunization Communication Network supported by UNICEF. In Kandahar, a male dominant society, women friends looked at her wondering if she will be able to supervise male teams. Anis won the job competition she tested for. The interview panel commended her achievements for having limited number of refusal families in her area, and ability to drive others for quality vaccine promotion. ‘’I don’t have a problem working with men. We help each other,’’ says Anis.

As the sun rises in Kandahar, Anis leaves her house at 6:30 am during immunization campaigns. She checks the outreach plans with her teams before they disperse around the town. After this, she conducts supervisory visits of her teams, and obtains updates on vaccine uptake issues. When she receives reports on absent and missing children, she converses with families in order to encourage them to vaccinate their children. For polio to be eradicated from Afghanistan, Anis thinks there is a lot more to do. She says ‘’we need better health and sanitation services, more women to access homes and foster trusted relationships with the local authorities to ensure families accept vaccine. ‘’I will continue to work hard, for every child to be able to walk, attend school and grow healthy. It is the whole community’s cause for generations to come,’’ Anis concludes.