Ann Lee Hussey immunizing a child against polio in Chad.
As a 17-month-old toddler, I contracted polio. Burning up with fever, I was paralyzed from the waist down. It was July 1955, only 3 months after Jonas Salk's vaccine was released to the public. I was lucky to regain the use of most but not all of my leg muscles. Today, after multiple surgeries, braces, and physical therapy, I am able to walk with limitations.
My husband introduced me to Rotary, and I soon discovered they were leading the polio eradication effort. With my interest peaked, I took my first international trip that forever changed my life. I traveled to India to participate in National Immunization Days (NID) in January, 2001. People crawling on the ground, severely crippled from polio roamed the streets to beg. The sight of young children, their knees and hands thick with callouses, broke my heart. That was my Rotary moment, realizing I had to help prevent other children from suffering the same fate.
I am leading my sixth team of volunteers to Nigeria for my 21st NID. This 15 person group will travel through Nigeria 8 December to 20 December.
I am excited to be returning, anxious to visit with friends, and eager to visit my club's project. My main focus remains on vaccinating as many children as I can, looking for changes from my last visit. But more importantly, we are there to thank the workers who carry out these campaigns regularly all year.
I am hopeful that the presence of concerned visitors, who spent their own money to visit, motivates them to do more. The number of cases of polio in Nigeria was declining, but is now the experiencing the largest increase in the world, with 112 cases. Though that number may seem small to some, active transmission of the wild polio virus puts them on a path to permanently cripple large segments of their population and increase the risk of importing cases to neighboring countries.
Rotary and our global polio eradication partners, WHO, UNICEF, and CDC, are strengthening their efforts and are placing greater demands upon Nigeria to finish the job. The recent rise in polio cases places the entire world in jeopardy. It is a global emergency. Our goal must be achieved for the health of future generations of all children.
I am confidant my team members will better understand the challenges we face and become stronger advocates when they depart Nigeria. Their lives will also be forever changed.
My journey with polio will continue, with plans to return in February. There are many more steps for all of us, as we follow the path to the end of polio. Will you help?
You can follow this group of dedicated volunteers throughout their journey to fight polio in Nigeria on the End Polio Now blog.