By Ryan Hyland  
Rotary News -- 13 December 2012

Agroup of Rotarians from India gave hope and dignity to about 400 children crippled by polio during a 10-day medical mission in Nigeria this month.   

The team of 19 physicians -- most of them orthopedic surgeons -- assisted by 6 nonmedical volunteers, performed corrective surgeries on young polio patients ages 1 to 18 at two hospitals in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. The project was partly funded by a US$50,000 Rotary Foundation Matching Grant.  

The mission also aimed to create awareness of the need for immunizations and of Rotary’s efforts to eradicate the disease, says project leader and Past RI President Rajendra K. Saboo.  

Nigeria, along with Pakistan and Afghanistan, are the only three countries where polio remains endemic. In February, the World Health Organization removed India from the polio-endemic list. 

Reaching across borders

“Many experts predicted that India would be the last country to stop polio. Instead, India was able to beat polio,” says Saboo, who is from Chandigarh, Union Territory, India. “Now it is our turn to help the remaining polio-endemic countries by reaching across borders to share our success and strategies.” 

Through the surgeries, Saboo says, Rotary not only gives hope to young polio victims but also helps build trust and confidence with parents in communities where immunizations are still desperately needed.  

“This is a humanitarian project about goodwill and international understanding, but more important, it’s about social mobilization and advocacy to reach out to parents of children who are not getting immunized,” says Saboo. “If India can do it, so can Nigeria. We have similar problems, similar conditions, and are afflicted by poverty and illiteracy. But we [brought] a message of hope that Nigeria will soon be polio-free.” 

Rotarian Deepak Purohit, one of 12 orthopedic surgeons on the team, has worked on several similar surgery missions over the last 15 years, including projects in India, Ethiopia, Zambia, and Nigeria.  

“Polio-corrective surgeries are a professional passion of mine,” says Purohit, a member of the Rotary Club of Panvel, Maharashtra, India. “When the polio deformities are corrected on these children, we give them dignity and normalcy. When they can only crawl coming here and then be able to stand weeks later, we make them feel like normal human beings. This is a great thing we are achieving.” 

Bone correction

Purohit says the team conducted three types of surgeries: soft tissue repair, bone correction, and tendon replacement. The average recovery time is three to eight weeks, depending on the surgery.  

Nigerian Rotarians will follow up to make sure the patients receive the required postoperative care, says Saliu Ahmed, past governor of District 9125 (Nigeria).  

“This is a great opportunity for Nigeria to meet the medical needs of those crippled by polio and to be able to help them use their limbs,” says Ahmed. “This medical mission is a loud message to our communities that Rotary cares, that Rotary will stay in this fight for polio eradication until it is won.”