Polio workers speak out on Pakistan attacks

BBC Urdu's Nosheen Abbas in Islamabad speaks to two health workers who have been working on the latest drive to eradicate the polio in Pakistan - one of just three in the world where the disease remains endemic.

Attacks on teams distributing polio drops during a UN-backed three-day anti-polio campaign this week left nine workers dead and have been blamed on the Taliban.

Tasneem Kausa, Islamabad

I've been working as a lady health worker (LHW) since 1996. I now live with my three sons and two daughters-in-law.

We weren't scared earlier, but since these incidents happened, my family is very scared. My family feels good when they see security guards with us, but our senior officials aren't necessarily good with us.

This morning we were waiting and not leaving until the security personnel arrives, but our boss told us to leave, he told us our lives are in God's hands, and it's not like we're scared.

We are strong just like men when we are out working, but it was officially announced that we couldn't leave without the security personnel.

Later, after we had left, the security personnel were sent to us and they stayed very near us, going to every house with us.

People asked us: "Why are people killing you? You people come here to save our children's lives, you never speak rudely, and you wait hours to give polio drops to our children."

So, people are quite surprised that LHWs are being killed. We just need constant support and we will work to the best of our abilities.

When you earn 200 to 300 rupees a day ($2 to $3), it doesn't make any difference to people if you are killed… The only ones affected are our families.

Munawar Malik, Islamabad

I've been working as a lady health worker since 2004, and I started this job because my husband didn't have a job at the time. I get about 1,000 rupees ($10) for a 5-day programme, and for the campaign I work from 08:00 to 15:00.

Earlier, we didn't have any security, but after the incidents in the past couple of days, we've been given security in the form of police personnel - for every team of two, there are two policemen. Let's just hope this is a permanent change.

It's quite difficult working as a LHW because you go into areas where you don't know who the people are and how they'll react to you.

But what worries us the most is that if, God forbid, anything happens to us, then what will happen to our children? There is no insurance programme.

I am personally not scared, I leave each morning after a prayer, but my family especially my children are very upset about me working.

They heard the news and my 11-year-old daughter cried and asked me not to go, my 10-year-old son also keeps on messaging me on my mobile phone to ask how I am doing.

It's not a safe job anymore, but I believe we must eradicate polio from Pakistan.

We are one out of three countries left where this disease exists and I want to be a part of this campaign.

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