India has been certified polio-free by WHO — an encouraging feat indeed! Just three more countries remain polio-endemic, and Rotarians through their concerted efforts are concentrating on eradicating the crippling disease from the world.
Polio eradication was top priority of Rotary since 1988 but rehabilitating polio victims and undertaking polio corrective surgeries was another mammoth task indeed, and The Rotary Foundation (TRF) swung into action. The virus has left several people including young children crippled and paralysed. Polio corrective surgery camps are organised by Rotary clubs to reverse the condition and mobility aids such as calipers, wheel-chairs and tricycles are provided to the polio victims to enable them to lead a better life.
More recently, Rotary Club of Delhi Midtown, RI District 3010 in association with Rotarian Ghulam Naqshband Institute for the Physically Challenged (RGNIPC) funded the renovation of the operation theatre and Artificial Limb Centre at St. Stephen’s Hospital, Delhi. One of the city’s oldest and largest non-government hospitals, it is India’s only hospital that has a dedicated polio ward, which became functional since 2001. Polio corrective surgery was first initiated at this hospital by former Director General of Health Services Dr Balu Sankaran, a pioneer in the field of polio corrective surgery, in 1987 and is today led by Dr. Mathew Varghese, HOD of Orthopaedics Department here. The eight-bedded polio ward is being supported by RC Delhi Midtown. Rotary has contributed over USD 200,000 including support from TRF, through Matching Grants to the Hospital.
This year, the Rotarians equipped St. Stephen’s Hospital with 100 beds and other necessary equipment for the Artificial Limb and Prosthesis Centre. The Naqshband Institute, a charitable Trust run by a group of dedicated Rotarians in memory of their colleague and friend Late Rtn Ghulam Naqshband, pitched in with a grant of nearly Rs One Crore.
How it all began
It all began when during one of the Polio NIDs, PRIP Rajendra Saboo and PDG Raman Bhatia undertook a visit to Uttar Pradesh, a polio endemic state that faced widespread resistance to polio immunisation. Saboo, chief guest at one of the Polio NID booths in Hapur village found several women resisted administration of polio drops to their children.
Saboo and Bhatia decided to visit one of the homes to make the family understand the significance of the two drops. Accompanied by the local Imam and a school teacher, they knocked at one of the villager’s door. A woman opened it, but slammed it shut at the sight of the men in yellow jackets and caps. The Imam spoke to her and explained the need to administer polio drops to her children. She slowly relented and said though she understood the importance of the polio drops, she couldn’t let her children take them as her husband (who was out on the fields) had threatened to kill her if she allowed this. She had two children below the age of five — the girl was sitting on her mother’s lap and this woman had hidden her little son inside a drum fearing some kind of threat from her visitors!
The Rotarians along with the Imam convinced the lady that they would immunise the children but ensure that they wouldn’t be marked with the mandatory blue mark on their fingers. This done, they stepped out of her house and on to the dusty lane. They found a five year old young boy with limp legs, crawling on all fours. He was being stoned and teased at by few school children. Rescuing the boy, the Rotarians found that he was the eldest son of the same woman whom they had just visited and that she had five children, and this boy was afflicted with polio.
This triggered concern in the mind of Saboo and Bhatia which also brought forth the unique idea of organising polio corrective surgery camps to put polio victims back on their feet. The first camp was held at Hapur and it was deliberately made an all-healthcare camp. The villagers were provided medical care not only for polio but also for other ailments. Rotarian-surgeons from Coimbatore in South India descended on this little village; 250 of the villagers were polio-stricken and 100 patients were operated upon. The rest were referred to a hospital in the neighbourhood town, as they needed elaborate procedures.
Since then, Rotary clubs have been facilitating several such camps across the country, especially in the polio-endemic states of U.P. and Bihar. Every year at least 10 camps are organised in these areas with support from the local state government and WHO. The Rotary Foundation also plays a major role in bringing out these camps through significant financial aid. Rotarian doctors from across the country and abroad camp at the treatment venue for a week to perform the corrective surgeries and provide relevant mobility aids for the patients.
Saboo rightly observed that these corrective surgery camps would go a long way in encouraging social mobilisation and breaking resistance. When the locals see the polio victims walking tall, faith in Rotary would automatically grow for actions speak louder than words.
St. Stephen’s Hospital
The polio ward at St. Stephen’s Hospital is the pride of Rotary and every foreign Rotary visitor and guests from TRF do not miss a visit to this site which has changed hundreds of lives and is going strong today. Bhatia feels “a moral obligation to help the children of the world who were unfortunate to have been afflicted with polio. This life-changing surgery will bring back their lost future. Why should they still suffer this disability,” he laments.
Another interesting aspect he reminisces with gratitude and awe is on how the late Naqshband, a doyen of the tourism industry and Managing Director of Le Passage to India approached him the first time offering a donation. “I first thought it might be a few lakh of rupees, but he left me speechless with the figure—all of Rs 1 crore! To facilitate polio corrective surgeries. He didn’t stop; further donations continued after his death in 2000, at the age of 84.”
The RGNIPC Trust was thus formed and Bhatia is one of the Managing Trustees. The Trust works under the aegis of RC Delhi Midtown. Today the Rotarians have helped to fulfill Naqshband’s dream.
The upgraded OT and Artificial Limb Centre were formally dedicated to the community by former Chief Minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit in September.
Efforts are taken by the Rotarians to cover all children afflicted by the dreaded disease across the country so that they may be surgically treated. And their service does not stop there. Rotary Club Delhi Midtown along with Trustees of RGNIPC are together trying to rehabilitate each and every polio patient. They support them in ways such as getting them back to school or college; or help them learn a vocation or even start a small business of their own. The objective being to help each one of them lead a dignified, self-sustaining life.
TRF is satisfied with this project and has been extending its wholehearted support. Bhatia appeals to all District Governors to make use of this project. All they have to do is identify the polio patients and bear their travel cost to Delhi. The Rotarians of RC Delhi Midtown will then take care of the accommodation and food for the patients and their attendants, and the hospitalisation expenses for single or multiple corrective surgeries.
At the dedication ceremony, Saboo congratulated Dr Mathew Varghese and his team for such a wonderful job in serving the community and also complimented fellow Rotarians for providing support.
Such corrective surgery enables little victims of polio to attend school and older people to pursue their dreams and earn a livelihood. When everyone around their lives shunned them saying “They can’t” Rotary reached out to say “Yes, you can.” The Rotarians justly feel elated at having made these people stand on their own feet.