A thousand cuts: Young polio worker puts life at risk for Rs500 ($5) per day

Sumbal and her colleague were administering polio drops to children when they were attacked by unidentified motorcyclists. PHOTO: FILE

Sumbal and her colleague were administering polio drops to children when they were attacked by unidentified motorcyclists. PHOTO: FILE

PESHAWAR (PAKISTAN): The members of Sumbal’s family are sitting outside the Neurosurgery Intensive Care Unit in the Lady Reading Hospital, waiting for doctors to tell them their injured loved one was stable.

Sumbal and her colleague Sharafata Bibi were administering polio drops to children in Kaga Wala, Badhaber when they were attacked by two unidentified motorcyclists on Tuesday. Sharafata succumbed to her injuries, but Sumbal survived the attack. She did, however, sustain severe wounds to her neck.

Her injuries were critical, but as her family kept watch, Sumbal slowly came out of a 16-hour-long coma. While she can use her hands, her legs show no signs of movement.

Sumbal, 18, has been part of the vaccination campaign for at least a year. A resident of Sheikh Mohammadi and a student of class eight, she works a job which is known to get people killed or injured in a city prone to doing the same, risking her life for a mere Rs500 per day.

Born the sixth of nine siblings, Sumbal’s father Gul Muhammad is a sub inspector and her elder sister is a lady health worker in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) health department. Yet, the job was not forced on her by her family in an effort to increase their income.

“We did not tell her to take part in the polio drive. She was ambitious about serving the community and saving the lives of innocent children. I suppose, in our conservative society, people may be disdainful behind her back but I don’t care. If I think my daughters can do better, let them to do it,” said Gul Muhammad.“Although our family is broken up over the incident, my elder daughter – the health worker – still believes they will continue to participate in such activities, come what may.”

“She would buy clothes and other odds and ends with her income. Sumbal never complained about any threats posed to her,” shared Amir, a cousin.

He added Sumbal’s mother was being treated for spinal cord and blood pressure problems for many years. “Ever since she heard about the attack on her daughter, she has not been in stable condition.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2013.

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