Nigeria unfortunately has another demerit added today apart from its continuous Internet bank scam. It is instrumental in spreading polio to 10 neighboring countries when Africa was almost on the verge of eradicating the crippling disease for good. Almost every humanitarian organization on planet Earth has been involved in wiping polio off the face of the planet.
I was actively involved initially with Rotary as a volunteer and later on as a board member of a local Rotaract Club. Driving off in vans to remote parts of the rural landscape of Maharashtra accompanied by doctors to administer the doses personally can be termed as one of the most satisfying things I have ever done in my life. Prime targets are construction sites where nomadic laborers have never seen the inside of a hospital and bucolic civilizations that are at best accessible by wading through sticky mud. I have given the so-called elixir of mobile life to kids, right from a week old to five year old kids. People are often apprehensive of the drops that we administer to their kids and we often faced understandable protests. Cajoling and convincing people on basis of science and medicine can become increasingly difficult as we drive deeper into the illiterate parts of the countryside.
No amount of medical jargon is useful and we often had to resort threatening the parents with jeopardizing their children’s life. Emotional blackmail works great in a country like India and when everything else failed, we tempted them with packets of biscuits and candy that almost cast an aura of being evangelist (negatively speaking). Never before did we feel the pinch of illiteracy impeding the development of a nation as we did on these jaunts. Of course, some parents were more than willing to save their children from the disease and the look of gratitude was reward enough. A kids’ gleeful expression while hobbling on calipers and finding that he can walk without help can be an ideal poster for pure happiness.
India was almost rid of polio until a few cases in northern India in late 2001 made it mandatory for the entire region to be treated to another eradication round. Considering that greatly underdeveloped countries like Bangladesh have been declared polio-free, it is high time India joined the ranks. Corruption, illiteracy and contrary religious beliefs are said to be the major impeding factors. But it is only matter of time that India will overcome these misconceptions.
Religious myths that the doses are unsafe and “un-godly” have perpetuated the spread of the disease in central Africa. I feel the sudden urge to personally wring the necks of such stupid clerics and priests who stand in the path of a child’s healthy upbringing. Why don’t they stick to tempting dumb Internet users from sending their bank account information and leave health care to informed people? The fact that polio cases have actually risen since the past year does not bode well in the efforts for eradicating the disease, the spread of which can be exponential. I hope UNICEF and Rotary get all the help they can from the African countries in eliminating polio.