Svea Closser


“I Need Money, That’s the Only Reason I Do It”: Youth “Volunteers,” Unemployment, and International Action in Pakistan’s Health Sector 

Karachi and Hyderabad, Pakistan, are characterized by severe wealth inequality, uncertainty due to armed conflict, and a lack of investment in urban infrastructure and services. Food and fuel prices are rising rapidly. In this context, some women choose to “volunteer” for polio vaccination campaigns for around $3 per day. This per diem is not enough to support their families, and “volunteer” work is one survival strategy among many. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) relies on millions of these low-income “volunteers” in poor countries to deliver polio vaccine door-to-door. Global health bureaucrats use the discourse of volunteerism to mask inequality within their projects. When militants in Pakistan murdered over 20 polio campaign workers, the GPEI touted the “incredible bravery” of its “volunteers,” calling them “heroes.” Such discourse, prepared for foreign donors, leaves little room for discussion of the livelihood needs of these youths.

Part of Overworked and Underpaid 



Svea Closser (Middlebury College)

Svea Closser is a medical anthropologist who studies the culture, practices, politics, and economics of global health institutions. Her most extensive fieldwork experience is in Pakistan, and recently, she has been energized by the potential power of comparative analysis across locales when studying large global health projects. Since 2005, Closser has been studying the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a 20 year, $9 billion project aiming to eliminate poliovirus from the world forever—a goal that thus far has proved elusive. Her book Chasing Polio in Pakistan (Vanderbilt University Press, 2010) explores why eradication is so difficult in Pakistan, one of the last countries with endemic polio. 

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