Once again it is those days of the month when the bright yellow linen has appeared everywhere. Near the banyan tree, on the entrance of the school, in the local bazaar and almost on every shop; one thing I take care of is that MY shop has the linen for sure! Have you people guessed what am I talking about?
It is a campaign against one of the deadliest diseases that has survived in few states of India (including Bihar where I hail from). This disease cripples a man from the body as well as mind. It shocks the person to his core and leaves such a mark that cannot be erased over time (though everyone says time heals everything, but I guess that is a way to make a man move out of a heart-break most often). Polio as it is called, is one of the diseases which still affect about 1.6% of children in India (our doctor friend in the nearby village might tell you about it exactly, but I think I heard this figure somewhere), and if you are thinking how do I know about this disease so much, then let me tell u the bare fact that I am one of those unfortunate ones who have been affected by it.
The disease has unmercifully taken my lower limbs and I have to use my arms as my legs in order to walk around. I sit at the pan shop of my father, which I inherited after he left abode for heaven (or hell, who knows!) I sweep the floor in front of the shop every morning, but I have to pull myself a lot, mostly with help in order to go far from it! But, it was not like this always, yes this is a brighter part of the story, this deadly disease called Polio does not affect anyone from birth. It can be prevented! The meaning of this campaign itself is derived from this single fact-there are drops to prevent polio, and they are distributed free of cost (But, I believe you have to pay in order to get these drops in countries outside India, imagine how lucky we are!) Had Government not made these drops free of cost, half of children like me would be wriggling on the ground like caterpillars. I too wish to run and play and to be able to live my life without anyone’s help!
Oh here was I then at my part of the story. I was a very frivolous child from the beginning. As my mother used to tell me, I would never sit even when I was just a year old. I would roam around my home, (a slum in the heart of the city of Patna) to my heart’s content (perhaps my unconscious mind knew all the time that I would be affected by such a disease which would cripple me all along). Then, suddenly one night I had a bout of headache and sore throat followed by fever (I thought it was due to the ice-cream which I had in spite of my mother’s protests, how can u ever resist an ice-cream in summer?). The fever turned to diarrhea, and I could feel a very bad heaviness in my legs. It was almost evil, as though the witch who is mostly shown on the TV has caught my limbs! It was even worse; the witch would not let it go even in the morning! And it has not even let it go; even to this day, but today I know it is no black magic, but a disease which affects many people like me! It spreads with infection due to feces, which must be the most common thing in a slum. I have heard other diseases like diarrhea, TB and cholera also occur due to unclean surroundings. If we know all this, then why is that we dwell in the same dirty area, this I still fail to understand?
The Government has been running a lot of programs in order to eradicate this disease, so much that I heard all other Health programs have been suffering due to it! The Polio rounds (as it is called) are conducted every month for a week and you would see women roaming around the houses carrying a blue colour case, which is a vaccine holder (I asked one of them once and they told me it was to keep the polio vaccine cool in the hot weather); giving two drops to children and also marking out the houses who were closed (I asked them why, and they told me it was to come back and give the vaccine later during the week, but Do they really come back to each and every left out house?). Every child from birth till the age of 5 is given this vaccine every month to protect him/her from the disease (Yes, Government does not differ between girl or boy child for giving this vaccine for free) Another source, the ANM which comes to our village (on most days) told me that the disease affects those who have not taken the vaccine till that age. It was very unfortunate that I was not given this vaccine (I later confirmed the fact from my mother, who is as illiterate as my father was!) The program was started with such gusto after NRHM came into being in 2005 (I learned this too from ANM sister) I was born much before that, So, I guess I cannot blame anyone for my sorry state, but you still have a chance to spread the message and save as many children from this deadly disease!
I am not sad (but yes feel helpless sometimes) today, but indeed life would have been different otherwise. I am living life with honour today and fighting my own battles as encouraged by my father, who might be illiterate but was very sensitive to human emotions!
But I want my life to act as a reminder to all the men and women of small children (up to the age of 5) to give their child Polio drops every month and remove all the superstitions against this vaccine from their minds (I have heard some people believe that Polio drops lead to infertility in children, how ridiculous is that!) That is the reason, why the yellow linen with dates of Polio rounds can always be found at my doorstep month after month!