Polio a reality

2015-11-04 12:38

“ON 16 January 1957, my mother put me in the cot to sleep for the night. But on the morning of 17 January 1957, things were totally different. My mother came to wake me, but was horrified at what she found. She called my father.

“I was laying there in the cot, totally paralysed, hardly breathing, tears running out my eyes, with no sound coming from me.

Then in quick succession, followed doctors, hospital, medical tests and then the diagnosis X Polio.”

That was how Dorothy-Anne Howitson, the public relations officer for Rotary Kimberley South, started her touching story during the club’s meeting where she stressed the need for every infant and adult to be vaccinated to avoid the risk of contracting polio.

Howitson, a polio survivor, was diagnosed with Post-Polio-Syndrome in 1996, the devastating latent effect of polio that is now descending on 70% of the world’s polio survivors.

She has also been using a wheelchair for the past four to five years as she can longer stand unaided.

She shared her story on Friday, 23 October, ahead of World Polio Day, which is on 24 October.

The interesting part is also that she shared the story a day after celebrating her 70th birthday X proof that she lived long after doctors had had little hope that she would survive after her diagnosis.

According to her, life for her family changed after her diagnosis in 1957, as it became entangled with doctors, physiotherapy, operations and rehabilitation.

“In my child mind, seeing the tall buildings of Cape Town became synonymous with pain and discomfort which led to many tears.

“Life for my older brother, John, also changed as most of the attention was placed on me.

Eventually I wore callipers on both legs and a back brace which started under my chin and ended on my hips,” she bravely described her childhood memories.

Howitson added that she underwent 17 orthopaedic operations, hours of physiotherapy, occupational therapy over a period of 18 years, which minimised the need to wear all the braces, and eventually doing without them.

“Until about five years ago I only used a long calliper on my right leg and a wheelchair for uneven surfaces or long distances.

“The impact of life with a disability is difficult. If you want to live a life that bears good fruit, you must have the will to overcome every obstacle as best you can.”

She emphasised that the relevance of polio eradication was still as urgent as it had been in the late 1940s when it broke out throughout the world.

A human-being may be the carrier of the polio virus where it will remain alive for a year, seeking an infant who has no anti-bodies, and it will strike with disastrous consequences for the community and the country at large.

The brave survivor continued to reveal that 24 July marked one year since the last case of the wild polio virus was detected in Nigeria in 2014. The longest period that Nigeria has gone without a new case of polio, and a critical step on the path toward a polio-free Africa.

She said that working with its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, national governments, and community leaders, Rotary International (Rotary Kimberley and Rotary Kimberley South are members of RI) had addressed demanding challenges, including conflicts and a lack of security, poor infrastructure, mobile populations, and political instability to globally protect the progress and ensure that polio had truly been stopped everywhere in the world.

“Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only other countries in which transmission of the wild polio virus has never been stopped. We will continue to work to ensure that countries that are now polio free remain so,” she said.

Howitson emphasised that no country was truly safe until polio had been completely eradicated worldwide.

“We are so close to success, but success will only be achieved with a final global push. Political and financial commitments to complete polio eradication are now more important than ever.

“If we fail to capitalise on this opportunity to eradicate polio, we could see an estimated 200 000 cases annually within the next ten years, compared to fewer than 400 cases in 2014 and 39 in 2015. Simply maintaining the status quo will cost $1 billion a year.”

Referring to statistics she pointed out that worldwide polio eradication will save $50 billion by 2035 and enhance health infrastructure in the poorest parts of the world.

“Eradication of polio effectively means freedom for every child from a devastating disease, and use of badly-needed resources to end poverty and economic development.

“Not only does eradicating polio mean saving countless children and families and tens of billions of dollars in treatment and care, it also means new opportunities and growth for entire communities and countries.”

According to Howitson, more than 1,2 million members of Rotary clubs around the world have contributed over $1,4 billion and countless hours of volunteer service to achieve this tremendous progress.

She made a passionate appeal for support of Rotary’s effort to end polio and ensuring that our government supported a polio-free world.

This she said could be achieved through high levels of routine immunisation in the province, active surveillance to detect suspected new cases, and political and financial support for those countries that remain at high risk for an outbreak.

“Ensure your child is vaccinated. Go to your nearest clinic or your doctor and make sure that this dreaded disease will be eliminated.”

She continued by saying she believes that it is the human right of every child to be vaccinated against polio.

“And when polio eradication is done, it will be the ultimate in equity and sustainability because it will be for every single child in the world and it will be forever,” she concluded.

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