One of the biggest worldwide Rotary initiatives is the eradication of Polio. Thousands of Rotarians around the world have volunteered during National Immunization Days to immunized children throughout the world. Polio is still present in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Rotarians commemorate World Polio Week from Oct. 22-28.
Castlegar Rotarian Deb Chmara talks about her experience overseas helping with Polio vaccinations.
There are many elements to the polio story around the world. Vaccination of children is the important factor that Rotary International is committed to dealing with until polio is eradicated. The plight of polio victims goes beyond vaccination in many countries. As a Rotarian, and a delegate with the International Committee of the Red Cross, I have been particularly interested in how countries deal with the victims over the long term. On a recent mission with the Red Cross to Tajikistan, I was able to view polio with a different perspective. In 2011, Tajikistan was one of the countries that had a recurrence of polio. The government did implement a vaccination program, but for some children in remote villages, the message did not get through to them. Many of the children lacked appropriate medical care during the course of the illness as medical services are seriously limited in the country particularly in the outlying areas. Families had no experience dealing with such an illness and had no idea of the far reaching consequences of polio over the life of their child – if they survived.
In the capital city, there is an orthopedic clinic that was renovated, equipped and staffed ( at one time) by the Canadian Red Cross Society. This project was done as a service to provide prosthetics for victims of landmines, and other conflict related injuries. A few years ago, the clinic passed into the hands of the Tajik government. Due to a severe lack of funding and organization for the hospital, the clinic is not able to respond to the demands made of it for the on-going need for prosthetics. As patients grow older, prosthetics need to be adjusted and replaced. With the influx of children requiring braces and special shoes due to polio, the demands on the hospital have increased substantially.
I remember visiting with a group of parents and children one day at the clinic, and every child was under the age of five. The families had heard that there was a place in the capital where they could go for assistance. The decision to travel great distances from the mountain villages with transportation that was beyond their personal means to pay for and included great difficulty in carrying a disabled child over long distance, made the decision to leave home very difficult. Some had never been away from their village before this. Once in Dushanbe, they had to find a place to stay using up what little money they had, with no idea of how long they would have to remain. In some cases, they had to return home after 24 hours and to be ready to come back when space in the clinic would be available. Keep in mind that rehab treatment would continue for quite some time after the braces for the child had been made and new braces would be needed in later years requiring further trips to the clinic.
It is hard for us to imagine the burden polio placed on the family, especially families who were living in poverty. Without some form of continued financial support over the years, it is impossible to imagine how families will cope over the long term. Polio does not stop at the onset of paralyzation. Children, throughout their life, will have to deal with a variety of medical issues, difficulties in mobility exacerbated by lack of appropriate shoes and braces, limitations on ability to care for themselves and restrictions to employment. It is hard enough in a country like Canada with all we have offer polio victims. We can only imagine how to deal with this disease in a developing country.