WHO Calls For Emergency Action On Polio

A Pakistani boy carries a child for to recieve polio drops in the suburbs of Lahore, Pakistan. (AP)

WBUR’s Bob Oakes reflects on his own experience with polio as the World Health Organization calls for a new push to eradicate the disease, which is still a problem in the developing world.

Oakes was diagnosed when he was nine months old, in 1955.

“When I woke one morning I was unable to move in my crib, so my parents immediately took me to a doctor, and I was pretty quickly diagnosed with having caught the disease that was sweeping the nation at that point,” he said.

Polio can cause paralysis in the arms and legs, or cause the muscles and bones to atrophy.

“What it did to me was work on opposite extremities,” Oakes said. “I felt the effects of polio in my left arm and my right leg, and both of those limbs are atrophied, and both of those limbs are actually shorter than the opposite two limbs.”

While Oakes is as active as they come, it was a different story during the summers of his youth.

“When I was a little kid, and we’re talking about the elementary school years and the early junior high school years, I spent virtually every summer in a hospital,” he said.

He’d spend those summers undergoing surgical procedures, where doctors would transplant tendons from parts of his body unaffected by polio into his right arm and left leg so he could have motion in those areas.

Despite walking with a slight limp, Oakes considers himself lucky.

“I have fairly good use of all of my limbs,” he said. “I did a lot of backpacking, climbed a few mountains, and have had an incredibly active life.”

Children in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are still succumbing to the crippling disease. Officials at the WHO say their fight against polio is at a tipping point, and that without more funding, as many as 200,000 children could be crippled by polio in the next decade.


  • Bob Oakes, WBUR’s Morning Edition host


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