A personal battle against poliomyelitis

When Joseph was only 7 years old, he came down with polio and lost the use of his legs but the disease has not stopped his determination.

Jean-Laurent Onana Eduma (translated from French by Marguerite McMillan)
21 January 2020

Whenever Joseph is out in his wheelchair in Dikungu, a health district in the centre of the province of Sankuru in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), people smile at him and give him the hand signs. Now that he is older than 15, Joseph is one of the most famous people in the village, since he has become the mascot in the fight against polio.

Many parents in Dikungu refused to have their children vaccinated during the vaccination campaigns held in July and August 2019. By sharing his story, Joseph managed to  persuade parents who were against the vaccination. "I used to play soccer and went out into the fields with my parents", recalled Joseph when thinking of his childhood. One day, he became ill and couldn't do any of that. He stayed home while his friends continued to play soccer and the rest of the family went to the fields. "It's a life I wouldn't wish on any other child", concluded Joseph.

Joseph a perdu l’usage de ses jambes à cause de la poliomyélite en RDC
UNICEF DRC Onana Eduma

Poliomyelitis is a very contagious disease which attacks the nervous system. It can lead to  paralysis and even death in young children. It is incurable but it can be easily prevented by vaccination. Joseph's mom still remembers the day her son became sick and lost the use of his legs. "I did not know about the risks of my son's illness", admitted the mom. "There was very little awareness about it in the village and vaccination campaigns were almost non-existant".

Involved for the last three months in vaccination campaigns supported by USAID, Joseph hopes to be a guiding light in Dikungu's Community Animation Cell  to protect every child from preventable diseases by vaccination. 

Determined not to let the disease handicap his life, Joseph wants to enter active life by opening a telephone and electronic money transfer sales booth that will allow him - in the long term - to open a small grocery store and live a normal life like any able-bodied person.