An afghan female health worker gives measles vaccine to a small girl
Pakistan now contains one of the last remaining global polio endemics. UNICEF provides training for Communication Network employees who aim to vaccinate every child under the age of five from the preventable disease. (Photo: © UNICEF UNI131400 Froutan)

The annual UHN flu campaign for staff, students and volunteers is in its final week, ending Nov. 25. When you receive your flu vaccine at a UHN flu cart, UHN donates one measles, polio or tetanus vaccine to a child in need through UNICEF Canada.

This week, UHN News looks at UNICEF training in Pakistan to vaccinate and eradicate Polio.

Anam* is a Communication Network (COMNet) social mobilizer who works in Pakistani communities most at risk for the polio virus in the Punjab province.

Anam identifies children who have not been vaccinated, addresses parents' concerns about vaccination, and oversees the effectiveness of Pakistan's polio vaccination campaigns. Pakistan had more than 85 per cent of the world's polio cases in 2014, and now has one of the last remaining global polio endemics.

In Pakistan, UNICEF provides communication and social mobilization support to COMNet employees and the government, builds community and household demand for immunization services, and responds quickly in the event of an outbreak.

Reaching Pakistan's 35 million children

To ensure that COMNet social mobilizers know how to talk to parents about the importance of vaccination, as well as how to successfully respond to tough situations they may encounter, COMNet staff regularly attend UNICEF training sessions on polio and interpersonal communication skills.

Frontline health workers are the backbone of the polio eradication initiative. Like many frontline health workers, Anam has to educate parents who refuse to vaccinate their children due to certain misconceptions about polio.

Reaching Pakistan's 35 million children under five is a significant challenge. The success of the polio eradication program lies in ensuring that no child below the age of five is missed during the immunization campaigns, a task that COMNet is undertaking. During government campaigns, frontline health workers go door-to-door once a month to vaccinate children.

By early 2015, Pakistan and Afghanistan remained the last two countries with recorded cases of polio.

Advancing the fight against polio and protecting the frontline workers

Anam emphasizes the importance of being well-trained and prepared for her job, adding that if she can't answer at least one question from a skeptical parent, they may refuse to vaccinate their child.

Polio frontline workers in Pakistan often face security threats and Polio workers, like Anam, have to be extremely cautious when working tirelessly to end polio.

During the regular UNICEF training sessions on polio and interpersonal communication skills, frontline workers like Anam learn through role play how to behave in situations they may encounter visiting caregivers.

Anam says it is crucial to know what to say to a reluctant parent, and what to do if a parent gets aggressive. This knowledge advances the fight against polio and protects the lives of a frontline worker.

Innovations at work

Reaching out to frontline staff through mobile phones has proven to be a fast and cost-effective way to get actionable information and deliver messages. In order to help COMNet employees refresh their knowledge on interpersonal communication skills, UNICEF Pakistan has designed a series of phone quizzes.

Interactive voice response (IVR) - also known as the robocall - was used. The phone quiz consisted of two questions regarding real situations frontline staff encounter when a caregiver gets angry, aggressive, or unwilling to cooperate. After answering the two questions, each respondent is told if their answer was correct or not, followed by additional details on why the chosen answer was the correct one.

UNICEF innovative technologies help Pakistan in the fight against polio. Frontline workers are the first who can see how innovations help do the job better.

*For her security, UNICEF has not disclosed Anam's real name.​

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