LAHORE - A small room inside a private clinic in the densely populated union council of Rawalpindi comes to life as mothers carrying their children keep pouring in the newly set up outreach vaccination centre.

“Can I have my child vaccinated?” asks a mother, clad in beige burqa, holding her child from the vaccinator.

The vaccinator replies in affirmative and requests for the routine immunization card of the child to confirm the age.  “A little over 10 months,” replies the mother before handing over the yellow card.

“Awais was supposed to have the measles-1 injection at 9 months,” the vaccinator poses yet another query as he reads from the card.

“We were away to Peshawar. Returned just yesterday,” she replies.

“It’s good that you came but always ensure timely vaccination for complete protection against all childhood diseases,” he reminds the mother politely.

The mother nods agreement as the vaccinator injects the vaccine in the left shoulder. The child lets out a cry in pain but it is a short one as the professional vaccinator completes the job in the wink of an eye. After completing vaccination, the vaccinator writes down the date of next visit on the card and advises mother not to miss the next date of vaccination.

Such vaccination outreach centres, an initiative of the social mobilization Communication Network (COMNET) and health department, are being piloted in high risk union councils for polio virus on priority as the province moves to eradicate polio within its borders.

As part of the initiative, the government is responsible for providing vaccines and a trained vaccinator while the COMNET select a suitable location for outreach centres based on proximity and approach to community after persuading notables of the area. In most of the locations, which are provided free of cost, vaccination is carried out once or twice a week depending on the availability of the vaccinator. All the locations are part of vaccinator plan which is drafted jointly.

These centres are being used to promote desired health behaviours and build trust among communities with the use of interpersonal communication especially with those who have settled down in Punjab from other parts of country and who have problems travelling to remotely located government hospitals.

“It is difficult to travel to the government hospital which is located at some distance and very easy to reach here by foot,” says the mother of Awais.

So far over 180 Sehat Muhafiz outreach centres have been set up in 8 districts of Punjab including Rajanpur, Multan, Muzaffargarh, DG Khan, RY Khan, Mianwali, Lahore and Rawalpindi.

As per June report of the centres, sometimes referred to as kit stations, in one month alone, over 12,000 children have been given protection against various childhood diseases at the centres from January 2016.

Explaining why such a large number of people are visiting the outreach centres to avail child vaccination facility, social mobilizer Nazia Parveen says: “women feel secure walking to a place which is close to their household and which is also not overcrowded. Our guidance and trust is reassuring for them.”

“Migrants like child Awais’ family travel frequently and often miss vaccination dates,” he says. “Vaccination of children has increased by more than 300 per cent with the support of these mobilizers”.

In Chak Jalal Din there are over 15,000 children under five while 4,000 children are under two years of age. Out of this, over 2,800 belong to priority population who are living here as permanent residents after migrating from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Director of Expanded Programme on Immunization Dr Munir says “Routine Immunization coverage has taken a substantial leap due to the positive role of social mobilizers, particularly the females in some high risk union councils”.

“Today, as per third party independent survey, fully immunized child percentage has risen to over 80 per cent in the union councils where community mobilizers are available,” Dr Munir says.

“After we have achieved polio free certification, there will be no door-to-door polio campaigns. In this situation, high immunity awareness levels supplemented by high quality routine immunization coverage will be critical to shield the children from any possible importation of polio virus. Here the role of female mobilizers will be critical to bring the women and children to the vaccination centres,” he adds.

“Parents treat us as a member of their family whenever we go to their houses. The love and respect they show me, keeps my passion to work for children alive. With this spirit of trust we will cross the polio finish line,” says Nazia with a show of commitment.–Contributed