A polio survivor who's fighting back now

For more than 20 years, Richard Elaka has been promoting vaccines for children to prevent them from suffering the consequences of poliomyelitis.

Josué Mulala
Un survivant de la poliomyélite se tient sur des béquilles devant un grand portail
UNICEF DRC Mulala
22 October 2020

"I got this disease in 1967", Richard Elaka started to explain, looking at the crutches that he depends on daily to get around. When he was 7, Richard suddenly lost the use of his legs after playing football all day with his friends. " They took me to a health clinic but the next day I couldn't stand anymore", recalled Richard. "My mother said that my father's uncle had put a curse on me", continued Richard who was taken to another doctor for several months without any results.

"It was only much later that I understood that my handicap was not due to a curse but was the result of not having received the vaccine", explained Richard who has been using crutches to get around since he was small. Poliomyelitis is a very contagious disease which attacks the nervous system. It can lead to paralysis, and even death in young children. There is no cure but it can be prevented easily with vaccination.

"Children who are disabled are marginalised and neglected", says Richard sadly. In order to prevent other children from going through the same thing, Richard decided to become a  community worker. "I realized that a lot of families did not get their children vaccinated because of lack of knowledge", said Richard.

Un survivant de la poliomyélite discute avec une famille
UNICEF DRC Mulala

For more than 20 years, Richard has been informing parents in the Makala commune of Kinshasa about the importance of vaccination and the risks of not getting vaccinated. The sixty-year old does it on his own time, and gets around the streets of the commune on his  crutches, educating parents by telling his own story.

"To vaccinate is to love, to vaccinate is to protect", concluded Richard.

Thanks to the Rotary, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID, UNICEF is supporting the first polio vaccination campaign held by the Health Ministry since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The campaign to protect more than 3 million children will be held in Kinshasa, Maï-Ndombe and Tshopo provinces from 15 to 17 and from 29 to 31 October 2020.