Ramesh Ferris was born in India to an impoverished single mother in 1979. When he developed polio as an infant, she surrendered him to an orphanage, knowing that he would have no chance for a good life if she kept him. He had the good luck to be adopted by a Canadian couple, and with proper rehab, braces and crutches, he learned to walk short distances at a slow pace.
In 2008, Ramesh started an epic hand-cycle trip across Canada, from Victoria BC to Cape Spear, NL to raise awareness and funds for the elimination of polio. He gave frequent talks to schools and to Rotary clubs along the way and was supported by many Rotary clubs including the Rotary Club of Dryden. Here he spoke to Rotarian Roland Swan. Their conversation is recorded in the book written about Ramesh’s trip, entitled “Better than a Cure” by Ramesh Ferris and John Firth
To quote from the book; “Swan grew up in Holland during the Second World War. He had been shot at. Bombs exploded next to him, and he dealt with war time horrors that young Children should never be exposed to.”
“What terrified him most in life, after he moved to Canada in the 1950s, was seeing what polio did to people around him. He couldn’t sleep at night knowing that, without warning, he might never walk again, or die from asphyxiation or – worst of all – spend the rest of his life in the monstrous iron lung that became the international symbol of the disease.”
Polio, formerly called Infant Paralysis, has been a sporadic illness since ancient Egypt, but with the dawn of the 20th century and the increasing mobility of people, it spread around the world in epidemic waves. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was likely the disease’s most famous victim. FDR developed polio in 1921 when he was in his 30s. He never walked again. By the time the first effective vaccine was available in the 1950’s polio was killing or maiming more than 40,000 people a year in Canada and the US, and affected every country in the world, maiming and killing untold millions. Last year there was a handful of cases and in only 2 countries. The problem is, that with modern air travel, polio is one flight from being anywhere around the globe, and anyone who isn’t immunized is vulnerable.
The cost of the vaccine to prevent polio is $3. Last year, about 400,000 children were vaccinated. The annual cost of monitoring the disease around the world is about $100 million.
Polio Plus remains one of the highest priorities of Rotary. We are joined in the fight against polio by the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, many national governments (including Canada), and by the Atlanta Center for Disease Control.
The goal is to eliminate polio from the face of the earth – to make it the second scourge of humanity to become extinct. Until every nation in the world is disease free for 3 years, the battle isn’t won, and we are not safe from further epidemics.
Each year, the Rotary Club of Dryden contributes to RI for the fight against polio. This year, the club has pledged $2,000. There will be a polio fundraiser in conjunction with our Paul Harris dinner October 23. Please contribute generously.
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