Theresa Schuurman travelled to Karachi, Pakistan, in 2018 to participate in the Polio NID (National Immunization Day), where people are at risk of catching the poliovirus and putting their lives at risk.
As we approach World Polio Day, we would like to remind everyone that a world without polio is possible.

Join us as we feature Rotarians from Rotary Club 1918, who have taken action and travelled to areas still suffering from this preventable disease.

Theresa Schuurman travelled to Karachi, Pakistan, in 2018 to participate in the Polio NID (National Immunization Day), where people are at risk of catching the poliovirus and putting their lives at risk.

Theresa says, "It was an incredible experience. Pakistan has a very organized Polio vaccination program, and I was able to tour some of those programs. The workers are paid only a small amount of money (by western standards) with a monetary incentive if they reach their vaccination targets." Some might not know that this line of work can be very dangerous, not so much for the risk of contracting the virus, but polio vaccinators are killed in Pakistan. 

She was impressed by the front-line vaccinators who go door to door, giving vaccines to all children under the age of 5 in neighbourhoods infected with wild poliovirus. "The front-line workers are literally risking their lives to do this work in sometimes dangerous neighbourhoods without protection," explains Theresa.

Many of the workers give over 1,000 vaccinations every month! Theresa says their dedication and bravery humbled her.

She also visited a Permanent Transit Post where workers are posted along the highway entering Karachi. The Pakistani military protects their posts. Every bus or truck entering the city is stopped. The workers go into the vehicle without protection and vaccinate all the children on the bus. Again, Theresa was amazed by their dedication and bravery.

There have been news reports of Polio vaccination workers being killed in Pakistan, making Theresa question her own bravery. She says, "I found myself wondering if I could be that brave. I wondered if there was anything that I felt so strongly about that I would risk my life for it. Of course, I would like to say, I too, would be on the front lines, giving these vaccinations, but I honestly don't know. We are so fortunate to live in a place that we have never had to make that choice. The whole experience was incredibly humbling."

Theresa works as a Community Health Nurse in a remote area of Northwestern Ontario. For the past nine years, she has been responsible for managing the Immunization and Well Child Program, so she is very familiar with the importance of vaccinations to keep a population safe.

"Most of us have not seen a person with polio, but I have. There are no words to describe the heartbreak of seeing a young girl with polio dragging herself down the road begging for spare change to feed herself. What is that little girl's daily life like? How does she live? How will she survive?"

The poliovirus will take her ability to walk and the possibility of a future. Just two drops of a Polio vaccine would have changed this little girl's story. It would have spared her the devastation of polio so that she might have had an opportunity for education, literacy, employment and income. She would have had the possibility of a future, to be safe, to have a job, perhaps a family and some social status. These are things that we take for granted in Canada, but that little girl doesn't have that security.  

The eradication of polio is a coordinated effort. Rotary has been working at eradicating polio for over 30 years. Theresa says, "The partnership with the Gates Foundation has given the program a huge boost, but the people I most admire are those that are working in countries that have wild poliovirus. They are doing the studies to determine where the virus is, how to best allocate resources to those areas and developing partnerships with local leaders to ensure community acceptance of vaccination."

The fight against polio is ongoing, but Rotarians are making a world without polio possible one day at a time by supporting those who are out in the streets, educating families about the benefits and safety of vaccines and dispelling misinformation.

Theresa says, “There are thousands and thousands of these dedicated unsung heroes who work tirelessly and risk their lives to further this cause. They are the people who have all my respect and admiration.”
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