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Looking Back at the 1950s, Looking Ahead to a Polio-Free World

August 01, 2013

As the world sits on the cusp of polio eradication, there’s no better time to reflect on how the disease ravaged Canada—my home country—and the US in the 1950s. I wasn’t in Canada, or even alive, to experience the fear that so many of us now rely on stories to recall.

But polio isn’t just a grandparents’ disease – I’m a 33-year-old survivor. In my other home country, India, memories of its debilitating effects are still fresh, and in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, polio fears remain a daily reality. That’s why I’ve made it my life goal to achieve a polio-free world.

I was born in India in 1979, and when I was six months old, I contracted polio, which paralyzed my legs. With no means of supporting me, my mother brought me to an orphanage. A few years later, the Anglican Bishop of Yukon, Ronald Ferris, and his family adopted me.

Thanks to the support of my new family and several operations, I learned to walk with crutches and braces. I learned to remain positive, focusing on what I can do and the obstacles I can overcome, rather than what I can’t do.

In 2002, I returned to India to meet my biological mother. There, I met polio survivors who weren’t as lucky. Without medical interventions, they were forced to pad their knees with pieces of tire just to crawl on the ground. Seeing this suffering gave me a glimpse of what my life could have been.

 I was born in India in 1979, and when I was six months old, I contracted polio, which paralyzed my legs.

I have since dedicated my life to raising awareness about polio eradication. Five years ago, I planned and rode in Cycle to Walk Canada—a 174 day hand-cycling journey across Canada—speaking about polio to local communities on my way. As an international advocate for polio eradication, I continue to share my story and educate parents around the world about the importance of vaccinating all children.

In these efforts, I am continually inspired by the commitments of others, especially the 1.3 million fellow Rotarians worldwide working to eradicate polio, and the countless vaccinators and health workers on the ground devoted to protecting children from the disease. In April, an impressive range of donors pledged $4 billion toward the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s new plan to eradicate polio by 2018.

Now, we are closer than ever to success. India has been polio-free for more than two years. Globally, there were fewer polio cases in 2012 than ever before.

But we are not yet done. The Toronto Star recently compiled stories from survivors and families who lived through the epidemic in Ontario. I hope stories from our past inspire others as the stories of so many survivors inspire me. By working together, as one global community, we can overcome challenges and make polio just a story from the past for all humanity.



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