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“Access to aids can make a huge difference to polio survivors,” says Neena Bhandari, a polio survivor.

Some of the polio survivors from Australia and New Zealand and their carers at the 2019 polio retreat in Sydney

Australia was declared Polio free in 2000. Journalist Neena Bhandari, who had polio as a child says "most people, especially migrants who have arrived in recent years, find it very difficult to get diagnosed for PPS or Late Effects of Polio and then find the right doctor, physiotherapist, orthotists, aged care services.”

Polio is a deadly infectious disease and leaves one crippled for life. Though Australia was declared Polio free in 2000, there is a continuous need for awareness about this crippling Polio disease amongst the general public and health professionals as still few countries on the globe are not free from Polio. 

October is Polio Awareness month and this year Polio Australia’s theme is “access, inclusion and equality” - access to aids and equipment that can make a huge difference to polio survivors. 

Ms Neena Bhandari has written several articles on Polio including for the British Medical Journal on ‘After Eradication, India’s post-polio problem’. Speaking with SBS Hindi, she explained Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS ), which is described as the sudden onset of muscle weakness or fatigability in people with a history of acute paralytic poliomyelitis, usually occurring 15 to 40 years later. 

Neena Bhandari carrying the 2006 Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton at Hyde Park in Sydney.
Neena Bhandari carrying the 2006 Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton at Hyde Park in Sydney.
BRENDAN READ

“There are nearly 11-15 million polio survivors and nearly 25 to 50 per cent of these have the symptoms of PPS or 70 per cent survivors have Late Effects of Polio.” Said Ms Bhandari

The symptoms, which may vary in severity are a pain, fatigue and weakness to perform daily chores. Some survivors may experience trouble breathing and or swallowing. Some may also experience muscle weakness, muscle atrophy or muscle wasting. 

Knowledge of the condition is still not well understood. “Most doctors are not trained in the diagnosis and management of Late Effects of Polio or PPS and are often reluctant to treat it as a new condition. Many newer doctors have not seen a polio case.” Said Ms Bhandari

Many experts think that PPS occurs when the overburdened nerve cells, which sent out new connections to make up for destroyed nerve cells, begin to fail, resulting in new muscle weakness. Aging may also play a part. 

Though no prevention has been found, doctors recommend polio survivors follow standard healthy lifestyle practices: consuming a well-balanced diet, exercising in moderation, and visiting a doctor regularly. 

Mr Bhandari said that though PPS cannot be prevented but can be managed. With new technology and modernisation, one can access better equipment like carbon fibre callipers which are way lighter than traditional old ones, motorised chairs etc “ Simple things like changing callipers, customized shoes to address unequal leg lengths, which can because of back pain and requires extra energy to walk, reducing daily activities, and resting where possible, can help loss of muscle function and ease pain in PPS.” added Ms Bhandari

Polio Australia is a national support group for polio survivors.

It is also launching the Australasian Clinical Advisory Group to provide expert post-polio information and a blog, providing up-to-date news and information for polio survivors. 

For more information, contact Polio Australia at 03 90167678 or office@polioaustralia.org.au

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