I'm Ramesh Ferris, a modern day Polio survivor who hand-biked across Canada to advocate for an end to this disease. I'm working with Global Citizen to end Polio. AMA!
Hi Reddit! I'm Ramesh from Canada! I was born in 1979 in India and contracted polio when I was just six months old, leaving my legs paralyzed. Because of a lack of rehabilitation opportunities, my mother put me up for adoption in an orphanage started by Canadians and a year later I was adopted by a Canadian family in the Yukon. In 2008, to raise awareness about the plight of polio-afflicted people in my home country of India, I hand-cycled 4400 miles (7140 kms) across Canada. Since then I've written a book and spend my time working with Rotary International, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Global Citizen to advocate for an end to polio. Just yesterday I met with Justin Trudeau and other Canadian Ministers to kick off World Immunization Week! AMA!
My proof: https://twitter.com/GlblCtznImpact/status/986666087617048578
Edit 1: Me with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau https://twitter.com/RAMESHFERRIS/status/988564967036203010
EDIT 2: If you're motivated by my AMA to do more to end Polio you can start by taking action here to ensure the Canadian government prioritizes international cooperation for global health as part of their leading the G7. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/action/canada-g7-health-for-all-universal-health-care/
EDIT 3: That's all! Thank you so much everyone for your great questions. If you have any questions in the future please just tweet me @RAMESHFERRIS and I'll do my best to answer. Please, please, please take the time to educate our fellow global citizens on the importance of receiving vaccines and by working together we can and will end polio and other preventable diseases! If you want to join me in taking action please go to www.globalcitizen.org. Thank you!
I think it's normal to question the world around us, however I think it's just plain irresponsible to dispute proven medical evidence and years and years of scientific research that prove time and time again that #VaccinesWork.
It's up to us as responsible global citizens to ensure we are educating people about the importance of receiving vaccinations. We live a global community with global travel - a vaccine preventable disease is just a plane ride away.
I always have time to educate anti-vaxers. I will always counter the anti-vax movement with patience, education on medical evidence that show vaccines work. If that doesn't work I show them my legs as a way to demonstrate that I live with the effects of a horrible vaccine preventable-disease (polio). The photos I get with notables like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (including a link above) help counter the anti-vax movement. As global citizens continue to elevate their voices anti-vaxers voices like Jenny McCarthy become quieter and quieter. This is why we must continue to elevate our collective voices that vaccines work.
If you didn't know, it's #WorldImmunizationWeek!
Vaccine-preventable diseases include: Cervical cancer, Cholera, Diphtheria, Hep B, Influenza, Japanese encephalitis, Measles, Mumps, Pertussis, Pneumonia, Polio, Rabies, Rotavirus, Rubella, Tetanus, Typhoid, Varicella, Yellow Fever.
Mostly all of the anti-vaxers I have met aren't living with effects of the above mentioned diseases.
We're protected together, #VaccinesWork!
Hi Ramesh, what an inspiring story! I'm curious - do you believe that the complete eradication of Polio is truly possible? It seems like an incredible goal, and one worth chasing, but the size of it is just mind-boggling. How do health workers reach every far flung person across the world, that might not have access to modern methods of communication, to ensure this disease has truly been wiped out?
I absolutely believe 100% that we can eradicate polio from the world. The task to eradicate the world's second disease from the world continues to be mind boggling, and daunting.
But just look how far we come. In 1988 Polio was endemic in 125 countries and it was estimated that there were 350,000 cases of polio annually worldwide.
Today thanks to the hard work of healthcare workers who risk their lives every day to provide the polio vaccine to the children of the world, efforts from Rotarians who volunteer their time to vaccinate children and generously donate to polio eradication as part of their Rotary International Polio Plus Campaign (since 1985), and the millions of actions my fellow Global Citizens are taking to ensure end polio efforts remain a top priority on Government agendas, we're now closer than ever to ending polio.
With your support and taking action we will be one step closer to eradicating this horrible disease.
Hello, Ramesh! Congratulations on your accomplishments!
Have you ever played any other sort of wheelchair sports? I played on the Saskatchewan Wheelchair Basketball team for many years..... I started when I was maybe 11 or 12 years old and continued until my mid twenties.
I was an able bodied individual but it was amazing seeing the kids I played with as a teenager grow into athletes who subsequently participated in quite a few Olympic games.
Edit: I'm also curious how your experience with healthcare in Canada was? My mother was a paraplegic by disease and my step father was a paraplegic via a trucking accident. From what I can tell they did not struggle (past tense implied) with anything other than the price of a new wheelchair.
For anyone reading this who does not have experience with fitted chairs... It is a process and costs a heck of a lot of money. A custom fitted titanium chair can cost a family up to and beyond $5000. Anything else such as proper cushions is an additional cost.
A RoHo that lasts you a few months is upwards of $100-200.
What many people do not realize is that paraplegics and quadriplegics spend most of their lives in these vehicles. A properly fitted chair is essential for reducing pressure sores, correcting posture and adding to the comfort of an individuals life. A poorly fitted wheelchair, such as those you find at the hospital, does not meet the requirements necessary if you need to LIVE in said chair.
Before I started the Cycle to Walk Polio campaign in 2008, I started an organization called Yukon STARS (Yukon Society Towards Accessible Recreation and Sport) The purpose of this was to teach education and awareness for people living with long term mobility loss. We had a once a week drop in wheelchair basketball program, hand cycling program and inclusive dance program (people in wheelchairs and standing up). I also did an outreach program where I taught high school students, as part of their physical education classes, respect and understanding for people with long term mobility loss using wheelchair basket as a tool for engagement.
I represented Yukon at the Haywood Western Championships Para-Nordic Sit Skiing Competition as well at the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I've sat on the board for the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association and the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Association representing the Yukon Territory.
Congrats on your work..keep it up, sport is an amazing tool for team and self development.
Hey! Slightly off topic but do you know your biological parents/are you in contact with them?
In 2002 I met my Birthmother Lakshmi for the first time in India, When I met her in person I said thank you for your selfless decision to give me up to an orphanage so I can have a healthier life and have the ability to walk.
In 2013 I had the opportunity to meet my Birth father, in both incidences they were full of tears of joy, happy and proud of the man I have become.
The roots of my past are truly deep in the present, I continuously reflect on how fortunate my life has turned out and the opportunities I have been given to help others.
In your adult life, have you had hay complications of Post Polio Syndrome on muscles not previously affected by the disease as a child?
Polio not only affected my legs and my ability to walk it affected my respiratatory system. By the age of 11 I had pneumonia 9 times as a result of polio scaring my lung tissue making my respiratory weaker. To this day I have shortness of breath, and a chronic cough.
Because my left leg has over compensated for the weakness of my right leg I'm starting to experience my pain and fatigue when walking. This summer I will be fitted with two long leg braces. But I have a strong positive attitude, and I'm just so happy I have access to rehabilitative supports know matter how my health condition changes due to post- polio syndrome.
There are places in our world where polio survivors continue to this day to crawl in dirt using sandals on their hands and tire pieces on their knees to get around their community as they don't have access to rehabilitation.
What's your experience with finding medical professionals who understand about polio and post-polio syndrome in a country that hasn't had any new cases in so long?
In 2008 I was completing a Cycle to Walk presentation to second year medical students at University and I found they didn't even know what polio was as they weren't being taught about it in class. They were so curious and had so many questions.
Historically, polio used to be the leading cause of disability worldwide yet now it's a forgotten-about disease in many countries. It's essential that the medical community keep educating people about polio and its effects. Nurses and doctors should be educators to help patients make the important decision to have themselves and their children vaccinated. Many doctors are unaware of post polio syndrome and attribute symptoms to general aging and not the longer term effects of polio. Our educational institutions can help correct this.
HI Ramesh! Your work is truly amazing and inspirational! I have been looking for ways to get involved in improving healthcare globally and have a background in genetics. Any ideas for someone fairly average to help out?
It's wonderful to hear you feel inspired to take action....we need more people like you who want to take action to make our world healthier! :)
There are several ways for you to take action....Believe me no action is too little, and every action makes a difference. I recall a time when I was in Kabul, Afghanistan providing the polio vaccine to a small child. After the mother is in tears and says i'm so happy that you have come to my country to save my child from polio, I'm so happy that people around the world have not forgotten about Afghanistan's Children. When I heard this it made me choked up realizing how meaningful our positive actions to help others can be (even if you will never see the people you are helping).
If you're interested, I would suggest taking action here with Global Citizen to call on the Canadian government to prioritize international cooperation for global health as part of their leading the G7.
Hi! What an inspiring story.
My aunt was unfortunate enough to contract polio in Canada when she was younger. It honestly changed the trajectory of her life and she’s still dealing with the after effects now as 64 year old.
Do you often speak with other survivors?
Thanks for sharing your personal connection to polio. To answer your question, yes there are millions of polio survivors worldwide. Many countries have established post polio support networks like Polio Canada and Polio Australia where polio survivors are a resource and support for each other as well as a resources for others in their community regarding how best they can have their post polio needs met.
I have had the honour of speaking with many polio survivors around the world some while doing presentations at Rotary Conferences, and some while talking to survivors on the streets of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Portugal. The message they always articulate to me is Thank-you for being my voice, we must continue our efforts and end polio so no one has to go through what I've gone through.
Is there any metric towards the goal of ending polio that your efforts impacted in any measurable way?
A country has to go two full years without a case of the wild polio virus, then they will be dropped off the country polio endemic list. A country will then have to go an additional 3 years without any new cases of polio and will be certified polio free. This is why it's imperative to continue vaccinate children under 5 every where until the entire world has been certified polio free (a case of polio anywhere in the world is a threat to children everywhere in the world)
Hi Ramesh! Thank you for sharing your time with us and what an amazing story. During times of doubt, what motivates you the most?
Thanks so much for your question:
Throughout my life I have had doubt (my ability to achieve something like hand-cycling across Canada). What has kept me driven to overcome my personal doubt is staying positive, not losing hope, having a vision, wanting to be part of the solution, not being afraid to ask for help, and working as a team to reach a goal (like ending polio). It's also important for me to be an agent of change and constantly taking the time to educate and empower my fellow global citizens to find ways to take action and be a part of the solution.
When I see other people taking positive actions to show care and compassion beyond their borders and want to help change the world I feel more and more that working together we can make what seems impossible, possible.
What was your favorite leg of the trip?
The best part of the Cycle to Walk 7140kms cross-Canada journey was engaging with so many Canadians, and connecting with them about a forgotten about disease.
Polio hits home to so many people, which you learn that once the polio discussion is started. What was even cooler was how learn how generous people continue to be of their time and financial support to ensure we end polio once and for all.
Hello, this is probably a stupid question but why did you ride across the country to advocate for a disease that's (for the most part) completely cured and has less than 30 reported cases a year (according to the WHO).
I understand that you contracted Polio in 1979 but there has been a significant decrease (over 99%) of cases from then until now and as such, the awareness is already there. Of course, this is ignoring the anti-vaxxers but that's a seperate discussion all together.
I guess my point is, what are you hoping to accomplish by being an advocate for a disease that's largely irrelevant due to modern medicine?
It's important to remember that I contracted polio 25 years after the release of Dr. Jonas Salk's polio vaccine, and shortly after the USA was declared polio free in 1979.
Polio may not be the sexy, mainstream discussion topic but it is not a disease of the past, it's truly relevant and a cause for concern today. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts if we don't continue the fight against polio an additional 10 million children will be paralyzed over the next 40 years.
The reason why there's no polio cases in the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Japan etc is because of the exhausting work being done by health care workers (vaccinating millions and millions of children a year in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, India and so many other places).
The WHO spends approximately 1.2 billion annually to fund the polio eradication efforts. If world leaders waiver on their funding commitments then the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), administered by WHO, must scale down their efforts and that means fewer resources to respond to the polio virus and track where it may be headed.
If an un-vaccinated person carrying the polio virus travels then every other unvaccinated child is at risk. The polio virus tends to affect children under 5 years of age, but adults can be carriers of the virus, that's why it's essential every of all ages in every country gets vaccinated so the the wild polio virus will have no place to go.
The number of polio cases are small now, but if the funding and support to vaccinate decreases then the polio cases will sky rocket and we risk losing everything we have gained in our fight against polio.
There's also a strong economic case for eradicating polio. It will save more than $3 for every $1 we spend to fight it now. Developing countries can use these funds to address other global health priorities like ensuring universal access to immunization or tackling neglected tropical diseases which cause severe disability and stigma to people living in most remote and poor areas of the world.
Hi Ramesh! My friend was born with polio (one of the very unlucky few to get the disease from the vaccine) and it has made her depressed throughout her life, specifically the aspect of post-polio syndrome. What advice would you give her?
Please say hi to your friend for me. It's important for her to stay positive, and focus on the things she can do than what she can't do. The things she can do is take action and help end polio.
She may gain inspiration from my book Better Than a Cure, One Man's Journey to Free the World of Polio! https://www.amazon.com/Better-than-Cure-Journey-World/dp/1425191037
How do you feel about the rise of anti vaxxers? Might seem like an obvious question, but does it make you personally angry or do you feel they're coming from a good place and just misinformed? Do you feel it's worth it to start a dialogue with them?
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