A Pakistani man warms himself beside a fire during last sunset of the year 2006 on a hill above Karachi, 31 December 2006
Aneela RashidAccording to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), since 1988, cases of the polio virus have dropped by 99 percent worldwide, from more than 350,000 to just five cases in Afghanistan and Pakistan last year. Polio is a debilitating disease that changes a person’s life, and despite efforts, it has not been completely eradicated.This year, polio cases in Pakistan have been on the rise, with 18 new cases registered. In September, Pakistani health officials reported that a three-month-old boy was the latest victim of the polio virus.In a statement, the National Institute of Health said that the child, from the North Waziristan district of the southern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, had suffered from disabilities induced by the Wild Poliovirus type 1 (WPV-1) disease.Even if one child is infected with the virus, that means no child is safe, because it is a highly contagious infection. And although polio campaigns have largely managed to eradicate the virus across the world, Pakistan and Afghanistan remain the last two countries yet to be declared polio-free.In order to be officially considered polio-free, a country must show an absence of wild poliovirus transmission for at least three consecutive years, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Sputnik reached out to a Pakistani victim of polio, who on the condition of anonymity shared his experience of contracting the virus and how it changed his life. Today, the victim is a scientist with many scientific papers and publications to his name. Having worked in government and multinational organizations, he is a shining example of determination and courage in the face of adversity. He is also an advocate of polio vaccination for children.
“I was born in 1954, back when there was no vaccination for polio virus available in Pakistan. We were four brothers and two sisters and together with my parents we lived a comfortable life in Lahore. My father was an advocate and mother a housewife. I was an active child, running around and playing with my brothers. I loved cricket and we spent many evenings playing in the ground behind our house,” the scientist shared.
"I fell sick when I was five years old. It was a very difficult time for me and my parents. I was bed-ridden for almost two years. In the initial days after the fever and body aches subsided, I stopped feeling any sensation in my legs. My parents took me to the best hospitals and met with many doctors, but there was no cure for polio. There is no cure even today, only immunization. All the doctors gave a grim prognosis – 'your son may never walk again,'" he added.
Describing the struggle of those years, the scientist said that his mother used to massage his legs with oil every evening and his father kept encouraging him to not give up and try to lift himself up and stand.AfghanistanBill Gates Ready to Meet With Taliban to Help Afghanistan Eradicate Polio17 October 2022, 07:09 GMT”After about two years of being carried around or spending my days lying or sitting down, I managed to force myself to stand up and walk a little. Everyone thought it was a miracle because with my diagnosis of paralysis in both the legs, walking was unheard of,” the scientist told Sputnik.With sheer determination and strong will, he kept trying to walk every day, and little by little his legs started to grow stronger. In the ensuing years, he went back to school and started playing cricket with his brothers again, he even played cricket during his school and college years. However, his legs were still weak; he limped while walking and he could never run, swim, or hike again.Despite the hardships, he graduated from school and enrolled in one of the best colleges in Lahore.
"Since I was a child I wanted to be a sportsman. I dreamt to be a cricketer, but after contracting polio, for some years that dream was snatched away from me, but when I was in college I felt that maybe not all was lost!" the scientist said laughingly.
“I was already very good at table tennis back in school, but in college I actually became a table tennis champion. You should have seen the shock on people’s faces when they saw me limping toward the table to play against a healthy, strong-legged opponent. And then you should have seen their amazement when I used to beat those opponents in a fair game, it was brilliant! I was quite popular and never felt mocked because of my condition by my friends and fellow students,” he added nostalgically.Polio: The Once Defeated Crippling Virus Now Returns22 June 2022, 18:02 GMTHowever, after college, the scientist realized that pursuing a career in sports would be difficult for him, because it would require a lot of traveling to play inter-city and inter-state championships and his legs were unfortunately not strong enough to allow him to do all that. He needed a more stable and slow-paced lifestyle to be independent as a grown up.
“Although it was not an easy decision, I chose science over sports. I went on to study chemistry at a university in Lahore and then came to Moscow to do my PhD at Moscow State University in 1980. My time in Moscow was the highlight of my life. I loved the science, the city and its people. Everyone was welcoming and no one discriminated me due to my disability," the scientist said.
“Want to know a secret? I was a table tennis team player of the chemistry faculty at MSU. That’s how later on I met my future wife, she came to play the sport also, and that day we played doubles against another couple. That was the match I lost!” the scientist added smilingly.He said that throughout his life, he has had courage and ambition despite his debilitating condition and tough childhood. He also fondly remembers how his parents always encouraged him and never let him feel like he was different from other children.
"Having gone through polio, to live with its aftermath and make certain decisions differently than how I would have if I had healthy legs, I can honestly say that I want each and every child to be vaccinated, to avoid contracting this horrible virus. It changes your life and the mental anguish that it gives, no child deserves it. In my case, I could thankfully walk again, but there are many cases when polio leaves a child completely bed-ridden. In my childhood there was no vaccine available, but now the time is different and it is available for everyone, free of cost," the scientist stressed.
He concluded by saying that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) should be supported and that it is the responsibility of every parent in Pakistan and Afghanistan to make sure that their children receive polio vaccines.The two South Asian countries are the last where polio remains endemic following worldwide eradication efforts in recent decades, which have involved a campaign of oral and injected vaccines targeting children below five.In the early 1950s, the first successful vaccine was created by US physician Jonas Salk. He tested his experimental vaccine called the inactivated polio vaccine, IPV, on himself and his family in 1953, and a year later on 1.6 million children in Canada, Finland, and the US.The IPV came in the form of an injection and Salk wanted everyone to have access to his vaccine as he understood that in order to eliminate the virus, it should be available for free or at very low cost.Hence, Salk did not profit from sharing his production processes when he shared the IPV with six pharmaceutical companies that were licensed to produce the vaccine.
In a 1955 interview, when asked who owned the patent for the IPV, he replied: “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
A second type of polio vaccine, the oral polio vaccine (OPV), was developed by physician and microbiologist Albert Sabin. Today, it is the OPV that is given by health workers in the forms of drops to children in the process of inoculation. The ease of administering the oral vaccine made it the ideal candidate for mass vaccination campaigns.