Ironman Athlete and Polio Survivor Reflect on India's Success
Jan. 15, 2016
I am one of India’s polio survivors. For me, and millions of children around the world, today is a special one for global health. It marks five years since the last case of polio in India, a disease which once struck 150,000 children in the country in 1985, the year when Rotary launched its PolioPlus program.
With its size, population density, unsanitary, impoverished areas, and the very high incidence of endemic diseases, many thought that India would never rid itself of the scourge of polio. But thanks to the efforts of thousands of health workers and volunteers as part of Rotary’s efforts in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, it hasn’t seen a case since January 2011.
To put that in perspective, India used to have, in one hour, as many cases as the U.S. or Canada would have in a year. That was 30 years ago-now it’s completely gone.
As I reflect on this milestone from my home in New York, I know that this is an amazing achievement, but there’s no substitute for seeing the results of this progress in person.
I had this privilege when I returned to India, where I was born in Bombay, for the first time as an adult, on a trip with Rotary to participate in national immunization days last November.
On this trip I met India’s last polio victim, Rukhsar Khatoon, in a tiny village in West Bengal, a state that was once a reservoir for the virus.
She was just 18 months old when she contracted the disease, but thanks to exhaustive therapy, Rukhsar is able to use her legs, and she shyly walked over to greet me, in a beautiful red and gold dress—a specialty of her village, which is renowned for its intricate embroidery.
At that moment I realized that she represents the beginning of a future of a polio-free world – a world that India is now a part of.
As I left Rukhsar’s village, I felt that there is still so much more to be done. 2015 had fewer polio cases in fewer places than ever before. It is more important than ever that we continue this momentum in 2016. But we must also expand our efforts to improve lives around the world at all stages of life. Once children are protected from the threats of diseases like polio, they should be free to gain an education, and empowered to escape poverty. Eradicating polio is the first clear step on that long path, and on this day, I urge you all to help Rotary ensure that no child will ever suffer from this burden ever again.