A programme for the polio victim?

No connection with patients

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

It is not easy to trust a doctor who comes calling, studies the patient’s sickness, and leaves without a prescription even. More so when the patient is a child in a poor family and has polio.

Yet this is routine in parts of the country where polio is endemic. Each child with symptoms like fever, muscle aches and abdominal pain is visited by teams from the World Health Organisation, for stool samples. This is to check for the presence of the polio virus and identify the strain circulating in the area. That done, the child becomes a statistic.

The sick child gains very little from a programme that spends more than Rs 1,000 crore every year on vaccination and surveillance. This does not include money from the who, unicef and Rotary International.

And what is it that the child needs? Rs 600 for medicines to treat the symptoms (See: Left to quacks). For the 703 polio cases confirmed in India in 2009, there were 48,806 cases reported. If each of them was provided the minimum relief it would have amounted to Rs 2.93 crore for the treatment.

This cuts to the heart of the polio story in India. It is one of the few countries where the polio virus still maims children for life. Health experts blame incomplete vaccination for this. Parents are often threatened if they refuse to get their child vaccinated repeatedly. Pushed into a corner, parents say they are plain suspicious of the vaccine that comes to their doorsteps in times when even paracetamol pills are not available in the neighbouring health facilities.

Providing relief to the sick child could be one way of reducing the mistrust—even clinical trials in which the patient is not provided treatment, if available, is considered unethical.

It is the minimum the government could do, especially when it is unable to do anything realistic to attain basic standards of sanitation and provide safe drinking water and food to the poor. It is the least it could do when it is unable to provide basic public health facilities.

It is the minimum it could do after the polio programme has completely taken over whatever little exists in the country in the name of health infrastructure. A country that deploys angawadi workers on election duty, leaving children at the mercy of quacks.

Virtuality of connections

Time was, not too long ago, when ‘Man is a social animal’ was not just a theme for school essays. When those who worked beyond office hours were labelled boss-pleasers by colleagues. When ‘workaholic’ was not a charitable term. It was fashionable to leave office on time regularly, to bump into friends and end up talking for hours. To watch a movie and flip through old photos with family and friends. Or join a club to, say, collect stamps.

People still do those things. Most still chat with friends, hang out with them admiring old photographs, sometimes join a club. But many of us do that online, through social networking sites—Facebook chiefly, but also Orkut, Twitter and Myspace. Today a 9-to-5 worker is almost an item of sneer, an archaic sloth. For the greater part of the active day we are either holed up at workplaces, driving through excruciating traffic or pitched in front of a computer screen.

Facebook—or social networking—makes the work-packed life a little more fun. Scrolling through new baby photographs of that guy who used to sit next to you when you were in the eighth grade can only bring the human touch back in life. But this also means there is a supervisor in a cubicle not too far away, hollering about the delay in meeting deadlines ((See 'Company time' for a survey on Facebook addiction and workplace productivity).

As plenty of people take work home these days, they also take home Facebook. In fact many take social networking home even if they don’t take back work files. The urge to hug and congratulate the chap who sat next to you in the eighth grade is quickly sated by typing a congratulatory note on his Facebook home page. He might be a 10-minute-drive away but you would rather wait for the day when you would chat with him for hours, maybe on Facebook.

Man is a social animal still. But the framework of human society is moving with the times. For many, it is the computer screen now.

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