Paediatricians Coming Together for Polio Survivors

Paediatricians Coming Together for Polio Survivors

A report by Dr Rabia Baloch

On 11th March 2017, the National Institute of Child Health (NICH), Karachi, hosted an advocacy workshop, raising awareness about the need for quality rehabilitation services for Polio survivors in Pakistan. With support from NCD Child, and co-organised by the Pakistan Pediatric Association and the National Institute of Child Health, Karachi, the event was held at the Marriott Hotel in Karachi, Pakistan.


This event marked the first time paediatricians in Pakistan had come together to specifically discuss Post-Polio Syndrome in children. Once a disease feared around the world, Polio is now endemic in only three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Whilst eradication of Polio must continue as an urgent priority for Pakistan, this advocacy workshop was an opportunity for paediatricians from across Pakistan to come together as one and discuss the rehabilitation needs of children living with disability caused by polio. In this unique way, the incredible power of polio – a condition that receives enormous media interest, as well as funding and commitment from multisectoral agencies – was able to facilitate collaborative action that might one day benefit all vulnerable children living with disability in Pakistan. 

The workshop had around 120 attendees, and special guests included rehabilitation service providers, representatives of WHO and UNICEF, Polio survivors of Pakistan, and senior paediatricians from all over Pakistan. The event’s main objectives included: advocacy for the need of rehabilitation services for Post Polio in Pakistan; identification of already existing rehabilitation services in Pakistan; development of  proposals for better and extended service provisions for rehabilitation needs; and bringing together main key stakeholders on a common platform to forecast the burden of Post Polio Syndrome in the near future. 

The event kicked off with an inaugural speech by Professor Syed Jamal Raza. Professor Raza highlighting the statistics of morbidity and mortality due to NCDs in Pakistan, emphasizing that most risk factors responsible for deaths caused by NCDs in adulthood have their foundations laid during an individual’s childhood or adolescent years. 

The event then continued with a presentation from guest speaker, Polio survivor and national program manager of Polio NZ, Mr Gordon Jackman. Mr Jackman emphasized that every Polio survivor can reach their full potential when they are accepted as a valued member of their community. He went on to further stress an individual living with Polio should have access to the assistive devices they need and access to information and education and suitable employment.

Joining the workship was Dr Shazia Maqbool, Professor and Chair of the Department of Developmental & Behavioural Paediatrics at the Children’s Hospital in Lahore, Pakistan. She informed guests about the rehabilitation services currently available for children in Punjab and recommended conducting an epidemiological survey of childhood impairments and disabilities for the development of a national registry. Dr. Maqbool emphasized the importance of early childhood development programs and rehabilitation stating they should be implemented at a grass roots level as systems linking children and their families to programs and services.

Joining the group of speakers was Dr Maryam Mallick, technical advisor on rehabilitation and disabilities of WHO Pakistan.  She focused on the Polio Rehabilitation Initiative by WHO. The project funded by the International Islamic Relief Organisation (IIRO) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was launched in Pakistan in 2007 with the mission to enhance mobility and dignity of children suffering from disabilities caused by polio in Pakistan. The program provides the following services: orthotics devices, surgical procedures, follow-up services, social rehabilitation, educational services, parents counseling and training. 


Pakistani Polio Survivor, Dr. Amna Sarwar, was also speaker at the event. She stressed upon the plight of Polio survivors mentioning that apart from the scarcity of rehabilitation services for survivors, often they face incredible difficulties with mobility in public places. Dr Sarwar has also faced many difficulties in her personal life because she is dependent on another person to help her get from place to place. She stressed the need for a disability friendly social environment. Things such as placing banisters between broad stairs or transport services can have a significant impact on the lives of polio patients and survivors. Dr Sarwar ended her talk by stressing the importance of making sure that rehabilitation centers are easily accessible to Polio survivors.

The event was a huge success as it provided attendees with the perspectives of professionals from multiple interdisciplinary fields.