UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow recently visited Chad to attend the launch of a massive polio immunization campaign and to raise awareness of the importance of ending polio transmission once and for all. Report by Guy Hubbard. MOUNDOU/N’DJAMENA, Chad.
VIDEO: UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow attends the launch of a massive polio vaccination campaign in Chad. Watch in RealPlayer
During her trip, Ms. Farrow visited Massi Hassan, who was being fitted with a plastic and steel brace. A few months ago, Massi had been a healthy and mobile child, but a recent bout of polio has left her paralyzed. Just seven years old, she’ll never again be able to walk without the brace.
Maimounna Mahamat, Massi’s mother, stroked her daughter’s hair during the fitting. She hadn’t even heard of polio before her daughter became infected.
“It got so bad that she couldn’t walk anymore and had to crawl to get anywhere,” Ms. Mahamat said.
Helping polio victims reclaim mobility
Massi was one of 132 cases of polio in Chad last year, the second highest number in the world, after Pakistan. It is quite a reversal for the country, which was polio-free between mid-2000 and 2003.
Moundou, in the south, was at the epicentre of the outbreak. There, people disabled by the disease go to the Notre-Dame de la Paix rehabilitation centre, which offers them a chance to walk again. Patients undergo an operation to free their frozen muscles and tendons, then learn to walk with the help of crutches and braces.
Thomas Mbaiamngone was crippled by polio as an infant. For years, he struggled to get around, dragging himself along with his hands. Braces and crutches have given him a measure of mobility and dignity.
“After going to the centre, they were able to arrange the apparatus for me,” he said, “and now I don’t feel like I’m suffering anymore.”
But the crutches, braces and wheelchairs – however life-changing – are not enough. There is no cure for polio; the only real solution is prevention through vaccination.
Mia Farrow promotes polio vaccination
Since 1988, the global campaign to eradicate polio has wiped out 99 per cent of the disease through vaccination. But the illness persists in countries like Chad, which has begun to export the virus to neighbouring countries. Experts fear that the great strides made in ending polio could be undone.
Herself a victim of the disease, Ms. Farrow spoke to government and religious leaders and community members about her experience.
“Polio means a lot to me personally,” she explained. “I was afflicted with it as a child, and I was very fortunate that I escaped without lasting effects. Not so fortunate was my son, adopted from India, who is now completely paralyzed from the waist down because of polio.”
Ms. Farrow helped volunteers vaccinate the hundreds of children who had arrived for the campaign, which was organized by Chad’s Ministry of Public Health with supported from UNICEF and the World Health Organization.
At Notre Dame de la Paix, Ms. Farrow helped 4-year-old Abakar, another victim of polio, take his first brace-assisted steps. She also met with a women’s group that is working to promote polio eradication efforts.
“One of the depressing things is that it had been eradicated from Chad,” Ms. Farrow said.
But the determination she witnessed in Moundou gives her – and the community – hope.
“I’m now in a place where a lot of amazing mothers are galvanized to go out and tell their friends they’ve got to have their children vaccinated, so I think the consciousness is rising,” she said. “This is something people have to do.”