Qari Aqeel knows what the absence of vaccines can do. As a child, he was not immunized against polio. He paid the price. Now, he helps prevent this from happening to other children. His father, too, is keenly aware how the lack of immunization blighted Aqeel’s life. “Immunizing one’s child,” he says, “is every parent’s responsibility; yet I was unable to fulfill this duty for my son.”
The father's words - and Aqeel's - can be watched here.
Aqeel was a young child when he contracted polio . The disease left him paralyzed. The society he lived in was not accepting:
“In the first three years”, he says, he had not choice but to stay home. When children saw him, they would hit him with their shoes, spit on him, some would even hit him with bricks. After those first three years his father provided him with crutches, which allowed him to leave his home and move around – but the children would still harass him, push him and make him fall.
Aqeel was not alone in his generation. Vaccine access was not easy, and polio was endemic in the third world long after cases declined in the first world. In the 1980s, over 1000 children were paralyzed every day; in 1986 the World Health Organization estimated annual cases at over 250,000 a year – and those are cases of paralytic polio, not cases of people who contracted the virus. Most people affected with the poliovirus will have no symptoms. But “One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralyzed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.” http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs114/en/index.html. There is no real cure or treatment for paralytic polio. The only protection we have is prevention.
In 1988, a polio eradication initiative was launched that led to immunization of over 2.5 billion children. As more and more children were protected, polio cases fell dramatically. By this year, 2013, Polio had been eradicated from all except three countries. Unfortunately,
Qari Aqeel lives in Pakistan, one of those three (http://www.polioeradication.org/Mediaroom/Factsheets.aspx). The most recent information is that “Pakistan has reported six polio cases to date in 2013, compared to 15 at the same time last year.” Immunization efforts continue, in spite of some media criticism (p. 26) and incidents of violence against those engaged in the immunization efforts. Aqeel helps them, in his area.
Aqeel works to remind those around him of what polio can do to a young person. He overcame the harsh environment of his youth and his own paralysis to become a teacher in a Madrassa, teaching 85 children – most of them from poor homes – the Qur’an. He built a life, and does something meaningful. He still suffers, though, when, as a believing Muslim, he is unable to stand before his God, as he would like. Instead, he must remain kneeling when the others stand. Watching children play, he is glad for their innocent joy, but sorry he cannot participate. He still keenly feels the price he paid for not having the polio vaccine as a child.
Aqeel’s father painfully regrets his inability to immunize his child, and the suffering it caused to Aqeel. He, too, agrees with Aqeel’s efforts to support immunization, to prevent other children from suffering as Aqeel did. “My mistake had compromised Aqeel’s entire life.”
That is the message Aqeel gives to hesitant parents: vaccinate your children, protect them from my fate. When those involved in the effort come, he helps them, sometimes administering the oral polio vaccines himself. He is tireless, because he is fighting to provide the children of Pakistan with the protection he lacked. He knows what could happen without it. He was there.