The Polio Countdown
In year 2000, my 10-year-old son Thaddeus, in his wheelchair sat beside then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Together they pushed a button beginning the countdown and the global effort to eradicate polio by the year 2005. I had had polio as a child and emerged without paralysis. Thaddeus was not so lucky. He was born in India and is paraplegic as a result of polio.
Nine years later, in South Sudan, I photographed a woman similarly paralyzed by polio. She was striking in so many ways. She was beautiful and with extraordinary serenity, strength and dignity, she went about her daily tasks on her hands and knees.
I thought back to that day at the United Nations and the excitement at the prospect of ending polio forever. Clearly we have not reached the 2005 goal, but the world has come a long way. When Thaddeus was born, there were tens of thousands of cases of polio in India. Today that country has been polio free for nearly four years. India is a reminder to all of us that it is possible to live in a world free of polio if we put our minds and will to the task.
Ending polio would not only spare people from needless suffering, it would also make the vaccines unnecessary, and we could devote those resources to addressing other diseases that prey upon the world’s most vulnerable.