Rukhsar's stance is alright except for a slight limp that is almost inconspicuous
Two-and-a-half-year-old Rukhsar, the last reported case of wild polio in India, leans over the side of the wooden frame on which her mother, Zubeida Bibi, works painstakingly on a zardosi sari. Rukhsar's stance makes one wonder if she needs the support to stand.
The reality could not be more different. Exactly a year after it was detected that Rukhsar was infected with the wild polio virus, she walks with the slightest limp, undetectable to the untrained eye. A scar on her left calf — less than an inch in width — appears to be the only evidence that she was ever afflicted.
“Rukhsar had just about started standing up when she fell ill as an 18-month-old baby. After two months at the Infectious Diseases hospital at Belighata [in Kolkata], she returned home. Within another couple of months, she started walking,” says Abdul Shah, her father, on Friday.
From the time of her birth, Rukhsar had been a delicate child, frequently suffering from stomach upsets — the reason that she had not been immunised with the oral polio vaccine, he adds.
But in the course of the last year, Rukhsar has become the face of the polio immunisation campaign in Sahapara and the neighbouring areas of Panchla Block in the State's Howrah district.
“A year ago there were about 30 families in the locality that refused to allow their children to be immunised. At present there are only three families that continue to resist,” says Sheik Amin-ud-din, a United National Children's Fund (UNICEF) volunteer who works in the polio eradication programme.
Abdul Shah himself has been speaking to people in the area urging them to allow volunteers to administer the oral polio vaccine to their children. He regrets that his daughter missed out on the vaccine, recounting with horror, the long hours that Rukhsar's body burned with fever, her leg swollen as she lay listless at home.
Rukhsar's elder sister and brother, both of them school-going toddlers, had been immunised. But Rukhsar was a sickly child, continually suffering from diarrhoea or some other ailment. On all the days that the vaccine was being given out, she was invariably unwell, Mr. Shah says.
Arjina Khatoon, another UNICEF volunteer in the neighbouring Chara Panchla gram panchayat area, has never met Rukhsar or her family. But Rukhsar's photographs have become an integral part of her campaign among the residents of her village.
“In the rounds we conducted in Chara Panchla in February 2010, 87 families had refused the vaccination. As news of Rukhsar's affliction spread this number has now reduced to 64 families,” she adds.
Ruksar's photographs have become integral part of awareness drive in her village
Her father has been coaxing reluctant parents to let their children be immunised