|© UNICEF India/2011/Curtis|
|Fernando Alonso, champion Formula One driver and UNICEF Ambassador, administers the oral polio vaccine to a baby in New Delhi.|
By Shamila Sharma
NEW DELHI, India, 1 November 2011: “Polio is a terrible, crippling disease of children, which we can and should eradicate from the planet,” said Fernando Alonso during a visit to the Chacha Nehru Bal Chikitsalaya Paediatric Hospital in late October.
Mr. Alonso, a two-time world champion Formula One Ferrari driver and UNICEF National Ambassador for Spain, toured the hospital to draw attention to the country’s polio eradication efforts. He arrived at the East Delhi hospital hours after landing in India for the country’s inaugural F1 event, spending almost an hour interacting with young patients. He also distributed Diwali gifts to the children in the wards and to those undergoing physiotherapy for paralysis.
During his visit, Mr. Alonso also immunized five infants with the oral polio vaccine, and spoke forcefully about the importance of ensuring all children are vaccinated. “It is critical that all Indian children continue to be immunized against polio until this disease has been eradicated all over the world. We all hope that happens soon,” he said.
Over the past year, India has made remarkable progress in driving out polio. For the first time in the country’s history, no cases of polio have been reported in nine consecutive months. (The last case was reported in January 2011 in West Bengal.) And the key ‘polio reservoir states’, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, have not reported any cases of polio in more than a year.
The progress was apparent last year, as well. In 2010, India reported 42 polio cases, a dramatic improvement over the 741 cases in 2009. These unprecedented advancements follow years of concerted, intense and focused efforts among the Government of India, state authorities, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and Rotary International.
The right to a healthy life
“I wish India every success at the earliest in its fight against polio,” Mr. Alonso said, after lauding the country’s progress. His advocacy comes in advance of the 13 November immunization campaign, which aims to vaccinate 35 million children under age five against polio.
As a UNICEF National Ambassador, Mr. Alonso has worked extensively for the cause of children around the world.
“Every child deserves the right to run, to play and to live a healthy life without polio,” he said.