The report says that the “Women Health Workers” program in Pakistan, which includes about 1,000 women who represent “the front line in the fight to eradicate polio”, revealed advantages that women enjoy over men in current vaccination programmes.
These women have become “familiar faces” in their own communities that help reduce “reservation and skepticism” about vaccines, and, as women, have access to parts of society and the family that are “ignored or prohibited by their male counterparts”.
The report notes that 99 percent of the world’s polio has been eradicated, while 1 percent remains in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where efforts to eradicate the virus have faced a range of social, religious and logistical obstacles to the delivery of vaccines.
If Pakistan succeeds in eradicating polio, it will be thanks to female health workers who “take the day-to-day responsibility of delivering doses, entering homes, discussing private health matters and persuading families of the benefits of vaccinating children”.
Walking the streets and knocking on doors, they became deeply aware of the community’s needs beyond polio, and as a result, they engaged in a range of activities such as organizing health camps, purchasing water purification equipment, and responding to a typhoid outbreak.
According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey, areas served by vaccinators have better health outcomes in areas such as family planning, newborn care, and immunization than areas they do not serve.
“As the world prepares for the huge task of vaccinating billions of people around the world against COVID-19, the lesson of the polio program is clear: in many conservative societies the success of vaccination will depend on women,” Foreign Affairs said.
She added that when Covid-19 cases began to rise in Pakistan, during last May, “health workers” were quick to distribute masks to people and organize awareness campaigns to promote hand washing and social distancing.
Now, activists in Pakistan say they are ready to play a leadership role in distributing coronavirus vaccines.
Women health workers programs can help advocate and deliver vaccinations to rural and marginalized communities, particularly in conservative or religious communities, bridge the gap between formal and informal health care and ensure that the privileged and the affluent are not the only recipients of the shots.
Even in Western countries with high vaccination rates, female vaccination teams, modeled after Pakistani “health workers”, can help reduce vaccination frequency and help under-resourced individuals.
According to the United Nations Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth, there was an estimated shortage of about 18 million community health workers around the world even before the pandemic.
The success of the Women Health Workers program in Pakistan indicates the importance of addressing this shortage by investing in women so that they can invest in the health of their communities.