Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, March 15, 2007

By Shuprova Tasneem

Recently, I have been wasting away my days by zoning out in front of that hypnotising magic box more commonly known as the television, or by lounging in the darkest recess of my room and drowning in misery. And the reason for my sloth and self pity? I had been temporarily crippled by falling down the stairs while I was proudly marching down it with my nose in the air; although I would much rather tell people that I fought four muggers in a dark alley and hurt my leg in the middle of a superb flying kick. And due to that accident, I'd been condemned to mummify my leg in cement and bandages and be deprived from the light of day for two whole weeks.

Ever since then my exceptionally caring and loving friends had forgotten to call me or even visit me with flowers and chicken soup given that they were too busy enjoying themselves in parties and concerts that I was missing.

My school had already informed me that once I bothered to return to my classes I would drown in tests and homework, and I was perfectly convinced that I would be kicked out of Rising Stars because of my inability to show up at any of the meetings. You see, I had a good many reasons to be miserable.

Throughout this whole time, my mother had been my only companion, and during the times when she was not lecturing me about washing my face or brushing my hair properly, she was trying to comfort me about my ill fortune. In one such conversation, she told me to cheer up because it was only temporary, and said, “think of those poor kids who get paralysed from polio and become crippled for life.”

Then she went on to tell me about a patient of hers, a little boy who suffered from polio and even though the disease was gone, the doctors determined that he could never walk again. Since I was completely disinclined to become cheerful by feeding off the misery of others, my first reaction was to grumble to her that polio had been eradicated from Bangladesh in 2000, so there was no way that she could have seen a patient with polio.

But then I remembered that the government had started a polio vaccination drive since 3rd March to vaccinate 24 million children under 5, because it was only last year a 9-year-old girl had been paralysed by this virus in Chandpur. This has been followed by 16 other cases of polio, with the most recent one in November 2006, whereas in 2005 Bangladesh was believed to be polio-free. And it is not only in Bangladesh that polio has emerged again. Large outbreaks of polio have been found in India and Nigeria, and experts fear that this could turn into an epidemic on the international scale. 64 cases of polio existed in India in 2005, and currently 655 cases have been found, whereas Nigeria now has 1090 polio patients compared to 749 cases in 2005. Not only that, polio has also increased in Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger and Namibia.

And then I got to thinking, what exactly is polio and how do you get infected? Well, it is a virus that mostly affects younger children, and in severe cases can cause paralysis, which can turn out to be permanent, and can even cause death. Of course, there are milder forms of polio from which patients can easily recover in a few days. A new complication in regard to polio has also appeared recently, known as the Postpolio Sydrome. This usually appears almost 30 or more years after a person suffers from polio, and causes the muscle strength of the patient to slowly decrease.

Polio is a virus that spreads very easily, especially in crowded areas with poor hygiene. It is transmitted through saliva and feces, so it can spread if those infected with polio do not wash their hands properly after eating, or if they share bathrooms which have no proper sanitation and drainage facilities with others. For this reason, this virus has extended its far reaching hands in mostly developing countries, so that many African countries as well as countries in South Asia are still considered to be at risk from large outbreaks. The even bigger problem is that it can be very hard to diagnose polio, as its early symptoms are low fever, nausea, fatigue, sore threat etc, so one infected person can unknowingly severely infect others, even in this early stage.

Suffering from polio can be excruciatingly painful, since you do not lose the feeling in your limbs when they get paralysed. It can also affect ones respiratory system, and the patient can even have serious trouble in breathing and swallowing. The saddest part is that this cannot be treated, even though it can be prevented. When someone is affected, the only thing that doctors can do is give painkillers, walking aids and in severe cases artificial ventilation.

An Egyptian picture which depicts a priest with a wasted leg shows that polio existed as far back as in the 14th century. The world has come a long way since then, and polio has been completely eradicated from North America and Europe, where polio existed even in 1993. Bangladesh was also believed to be free from polio until the recent outbreak, and the caretaker government has done a commendable job in mobilising a drive against polio by setting up around 140,000 vaccination camps with 700,000 volunteers and health workers.

If you take a proper look at some of the forlorn beggars on the street, and see those with a withered arm or a shrunken, useless leg, you can quite correctly assume that they are victims of polio. We do not want to see any more victims suffering from the same fate, so it is up to every one of us to make sure that all the children in and around our families are immune. If every child born in our society, regardless of whether he was born into a mansion or a slum, gets vaccinated, only then Bangladesh can become polio free and contribute to eradicating this deadly virus from the world.

I was moody and depressed because I was prevented from using one of my limbs for two weeks. Can you even begin to imagine how powerfully and horrifyingly overwhelmed with despair you will be if you were deprived and crippled for the rest of your life?



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