I escaped polio when I was 10 and now it haunts my children

Everson Luhanga

As a young man, growing up in my dusty and impoverished village of Tchoko, I was one of the lucky children who escaped the polio infection.

After 30 years of being a polio-free country, Malawi has once again detected the virus. This has prompted a mass vaccination drive across Southern Africa – in Malawi and its neighbouring countries Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

When I first read about the recent outbreak, in one of the world’s poorest countries no less, I lamented knowing how the virus has left many of my childhood friends disabled.

Malawi, a landlocked country, depends on donors to deal with national health emergencies like outbreaks of diseases and infections.

My greatest worry about the polio outbreak is that it could now haunt my own children, 30 years after I escaped it!

Some of my friends who were infected are still struggling today with the high social stigma. People call them names as they struggle to get things done by themselves.

It’s a life-threatening viral infection and if contracted it can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis.

Every time I see my childhood friends who have become permanently disabled, I tell myself that that could have been me.

Dr. Mudula Tembo, who is based in Malawi, told me that some people affected by the virus commit suicide because of the abuse they receive for being disabled.

I am happy to see the Malawi government and the World Health Organization jumped in with astonishingly quick speed to stop the virus from spreading among young children who have their whole lives ahead of them.

The question that lingers in my mind is, will children under the age of five years who are in Malawi now escape the virus or will they spend the next four decades, like we did, feeling the pain it causes?

Image source: Unicef.org