Apr 262013

samveda 1Earlier this week The Guardian reported that polio has almost been eradicated across the world. The total number of reported cases worldwide fell last year to an all-time low of 223.

Until 2002, India had the highest number of polio cases  per annum. Now it’s not had a confirmed case for two years. The disease is now only found in three nations: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

“The battle against polio is an extraordinary example of what can be achieved when we work together,” says Kofi Annan in The Guardian report.  “This terrible disease, as my generation knows well, once cast a shadow over childhood across the world. Before the development of an effective vaccine nearly 60 years ago, it paralysed and killed up to half a million people every year.”

effects of polio

The fact that polio has almost been wiped out is fantastic news. But we need to remain mindful that the disease has left a devastating legacy of disability. Many children and adults are still affected from when they contracted the disease at an earlier age. It will be at least another couple of generations before polio-associated problems are eliminated entirely.

Polio spreads via human-to-human contact, usually entering the body through the mouth due to fecally contaminated water or food. The virus invades the nervous system, often causing an onset of muscular paralysis within a matter of hours that renders the limbs, usually the legs, floppy and lifeless.

personal experiences in north india

A few years ago I had the privilege of travelling into the Garhwal interior mountains of North India to accompany a project called Samvedna. It was set up by a number of partners to address the medical needs of people with mental and physical disabilities  living in the remote villages of the Himalayan foothills. Many disabilities in this area are polio-related. Samvedna is facilitated by KHW-India,  and partnered by CHILD’s Trust in the UK.

One of the lads I met, Pintoo, although not polio-related, had been born with a left club foot. Before Samvedna’s intervention, he had never seen a doctor. This was true for most of the villagers.  Some of those who had sought medical attention, had trekked as far as twenty kilometres to reach the nearest trained practitioner.

You can read more about Pintoo, his family, and the other amazing people I met in the Himalayan foothills, in a chapter from my book, Rising from the Dust, that I’ve embedded below. Both KHW-India and Child’s Trust have Facebook pages with current information about their work.  As do I!

It’s great news that polio has been wiped out in India. But many people still require vital medical attention, care and support to help them manage the longer-term impact of this terrible disease.


Mark Helyar is an author, musician and Co-Director of Theatre for Take Art, Somerset. The revised 2nd edition of Rising from the Dust ~ India’s Hidden Voices is now available in bookstores and online.

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