A former Bradford nurse has played a central role in the fight to eradicate polio in India.
Ann Barrett recently travelled to Cochin in southern India with members of Rotary and Inner Wheel clubs from across the district, to help health workers immunise young children.
Two decades ago, when there were 125 countries with polio, Rotary International pledged to rid the world of the disease. Now there are just four countries with it; Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and India, where it has been reduced by 95 per cent.
By next year India, once the world’s epicentre of polio, is expected to be declared polio-free by the World Health Organisation.
Thanks to work carried out by Rotary International, Unicef and other organisations, two billion children have been protected from polio.
Ann, of Gomersal, administered vaccines to under-fives in a makeshift clinic set up in a bus station.
“There were long queues coming off the buses, we vaccinated 250 children in one day. It was rewarding knowing we were making a difference,” said Ann, a former nurse at Bradford Royal Infirmary and St Luke’s Hospital.
“We had to keep the vaccine in a thermal ice box at four degrees. The children opened their mouths for two drops of polio vaccine on their tongue, then held out their hand for their ‘purple pinky’ – a little finger painted with purple ink to show they had been immunised.
“Impromptu vaccination booths were set up across the country. Indian Rotarians even went knocking on doors around Chochin giving vaccines.”
Rotarians in Britain and Ireland have donated more than £16.5 million for polio immunisation initiatives for children under five in endemic and high-risk countries, and to develop measures to control outbreaks and improve public health infrastructures.
Polio became a major public health issue in the 19th century, with epidemics fuelled by the growth of cities.
For more about Rotary’s work, visit rotary.org.