Gary’s Polio Project To India is hoping to make a strong impact on polio communities in both India and Australia by helping administer polio vaccine to children under five in New Delhi and by encouraging polio survivors in Visakhapatnam.

Melbourne, November 19: ‘Wheels’ began turning with the launch of Go Fund Me and Facebook pages, Thursday, to raise funds for a team of Geelong Polio survivors and carers to visit India.

The team of 3 survivors, lead by BayFM Weekend Presenter and Polio Australia Board Member, Gary Newton, have been invited by the Rotary Club to help administer oral Polio vaccine to children under 5 in areas of last refusal – part of India’s regular National Immunisation Days (NIDs) held each year.

Gary Newton with his wife and carer, Annie
Gary Newton with his wife and carer, Annie

The team aided by their helpers, will leave for India in January 2017 to work with St Stephens Hospital in New Delhi and then proceed to Visakhapatnam, to work with Global AID organisation.

The group which does not receive any government funding includes supporters and local polio survivors Jennifer Merrett and Jan McDonald.

Gary, 64, who contracted the debilitating virus in 1954 just after his 1st birthday says the group is aiming high, hoping to reach its target of $50 000 to help fight Polio and provide support for survivors.

As part of their campaign for Polio eradication, the Australian group will meet disabled adults and children to give inspiration, through their own stories that a ‘dis-ability’ is not ‘end of life’.

Gary and his team want to give hope by helping focus on their “ability” and not the “dis”.

Speaking to Bharat Times, Gary said that “while India itself had eradicated Polio with no cases reported for the last 5 years,” yet being geographically close to endemic countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, “it would take just one case to create a catastrophic event” for the sub continent.

Gary, who lost both his legs and arms to Polio and lives with sometimes debilitating late-effects of polio, is intensely passionate about Polio eradication.

“About 12 months back, I read about people who are opposed to vaccination… mis-educated fringe groups, who have no idea of life with and after Polio.

“An outbreak; and their children will be most at risk… When does the child get to vote?” he asked.

“Come and spend a day with me as I get through the day. Planning ahead… even before taking a small step, which others take for granted”.

He fears that such “wrong and obviously unscientific” beliefs could actually influence similar fringe groups in India too and Gary will fight such “misguided ideologies” with his own story and scientific evidence, while the team is in India.

With no polio vaccine available in Australia until 1956, Gary and his team of survivors caught the disease.

Regardless, they have all lead full lives here and now want to ‘pay it forward’ to toddlers in India. It is their chance to provide support and give others the opportunity that they missed.

“Having lived with the crippling effects of the disease now for almost 63 years, I’m passionate about seeing it gone so that no other child or their family ever has to suffer again”.

Gary said that for him and millions of others, who didn’t have the vaccine available back then, “the fight to rid the world of Polio forever is deeply personal”.

Gary will aided by his carer and wife, Annie during his visit to India.

Campaign organiser Peter Podbury, who is organising fundraising for the trip to India, said that “14.9 per cent of Australia’s current population, some 3,600,000 people, lived through the polio epidemics that ravaged Australia between 1930 and 1960.

“We hope they’ll think about how lucky they were NOT to have contracted polio and maybe ‘pay it forward’ themselves by supporting this trip”.


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