Dr. Ujala Nayyar dreams, both figuratively and literally, about a world that is free from polio. Nayyar, the World Health Organization’s surveillance officer in Paki-stan’s Punjab province, says she often imagines the outcome of her work in her sleep.
In her waking life, she leads a team of health workers who crisscross Punjab to hunt down every potential incidence of poliovirus, testing sewage and investigating any reports of paralysis that might be polio. Pakistan is one of just two countries that continue to report cases of polio caused by the wild virus.
In addition to the challenges of polio surveillance, Nayyar faces substantial gender-related barriers that, at times, hinder her team’s ability to count cases and take environmental samples. From households to security checkpoints, she encounters resistance from men. But her tactic is to push past the barriers with a balance of sensitivity and assertiveness.
“I’m not very polite,” Nayyar said with a chuckle during an interview at Rotary’s World Polio Day last year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. “We don’t have time to be stopped. Ending polio is urgent and time-sensitive.”