Brave man on a mission to protect GB children from polio

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GILGIT: For the last 20 years, Syed Baqir Shah has made it sure every child under the age of five in the area gets inoculated against the poliovirus.
A local of the Roundu valley, which is sandwiched between the districts of Gilgit and Skardu in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), Mr Shah has travelled long distances on foot to vaccinate children.

Health worker Syed Baqir Shah crosses the Indus near Harpo on a chairlift to get the Hajichookha village in Eoundu valley for a polio eradication drive.

On his most recent immunisation drive [Feb 13-17], the health worker and his colleagues also had to brave a harsh winter. “I have travelled to many far-off places in the valley to vaccinate children,” he said while talking to Dawn.
“There is a small village, Hajichookha, nearly 10km from here… there are only eight houses in the area and it is not easily accessible. You can’t go there in a jeep or small car even though there is a link road…it hasn’t been built so far as to approach the area by car,” he added.
Explaining how he makes his way there, Mr Shah said that the only solution was to cross the river from Harpo. The route is rather dangerous as you have to cross the Indus River from above by sitting in a local chairlift which is attached to a rope and someone pulls you from the other side.
“The rope is securely tied at both ends. There’s no bridge or anything. Once I enter the village grounds, it takes me around one and a half hour on foot to approach the first house,” he added.
Despite the distances, weather and lack of communication, the health worker claimed that they had never missed a child.
“Like me, many other health workers in the area go door-to-door to vaccinate children in remote areas,” he said.
According to the director of the Extended Programme on Immunisation (EPI) in GB, Shakeel Ahmed Khan, 236,000 children below the age of five had been vaccinated across 10 districts of the region in the recent campaign.
However, he added that 1,474 children in the snowbound areas of the region, including the union councils of Gultori in Skardu, Shano in Shigar and Minimarg in Astore valley, could not be inoculated.