Crippled soldier holds his line


Abrar Khan, 25, belongs to a Pakhtun family of Karachi. He was crippled by polio at the age of three but like most of the people attacked by the disease he had not lost the courage to keep on fighting forward.
Despite a lot of hardships, he kept on studying and finally got a degree of Bachelors of Commerce (B.Com) and in March 2012 joined the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as a mobilizing officer within the community. He is the only one out of more than 1000 working with UNICEF who had been a polio victim as well. It had not been an easy journey for him. “It is too hard to live in society like us with some kind of physical disability and especially with polio. Everybody makes you realize that you are crippled”, he said.
He was in Islamabad last week as part of his awareness campaign about polio. “I just want to inspire and educate parents that polio is not only a childhood disease and that children with polio will have to live with it for the rest of their life.”
He was teaching at a local school when he read about the job opening in UNICEF. “I knew that the organization worked towards polio eradication. I requested them to hire me because I hated polio. I told them that I wanted to use all my energies against this menace.”
Abrar had been mobilizing the community in the Pukhtun dominated areas of Karachi. Though his background enabled him to start conversations easily with the locals, but according to him it took a lot of energy to convince them.
So far, his record proves that he had been very good in tackling refusals from the people. When he first started working in March 2012, there were more than a hundred refusals in his neighborhood. “Since March, I have been able to convince 70 out of 100 parents to vaccinate their children against polio”, he said.
Most of the people object to the fact that why polio vaccination was so important when other necessities of life like water, gas and electricity were being ignored by government. “A lot of people think it is part of the Western conspiracy against Pakistanis. They talk about Shakeel Afridi. I take help of the local prayer leader to convince them. Only a few of them help me while most of them reject my requests”, he said.
Abrar had been used as a strong symbol by UNICEF to eradicate polio from the country. He had also appeared in TV advertisements to spread out the message against polio for the campaign starting from September 10. “His story is very inspiring. He is the first polio affected person who is working with UNICEF as a community officer to educate people on this disease. He is a great advocate of the cause”, said one of his colleagues.
Pakistan has the largest number of polio cases in the world. With 198 cases confirmed in 2011, the country accounted for almost 60 percent of the global cases. “Unfortunately an overwhelming majority of these polio victims belong to the Pakhtun community whether they were in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) or Karachi.
Abrar said that there were five polio affected people living in adjoining streets of his locality. He said that most people in his locality took it as the will of God, adding that some of them even got offended when he told them that it was only because of the ignorance of the parents.
“All people like me can easily be saved from polio. Those who deny polio vaccination to their children is in fact the worst enemy of their children”, he said passionately. He also mentioned that women were easier to convince than men.
Abrar had always tried to use his own example to explain to parents the repercussion of the crippling viral disease. “Life is too tough to live with this disease. I want to eliminate it from my country”, he said. “I strongly wish I could walk and run. I could not believe that it would have been possible if my parents had vaccinated me during my childhood”, he sadly said.