Updated: Aug 4
On January 13, 2014, India was declared officially polio free - an incredible accomplishment for a country that a few years earlier accounted for half of all polio cases in the world.
Mandolin Media, video production agency in Bangkok, Thailand, were commissioned to produce a short film, telling the story of Dr Mathew Varghese, an orthopaedic surgeon at St. Stephen’s Hospital in Delhi. Dr Varghese cares for patients in the hospital’s polio ward - India’s last remaining ward dedicated to treating survivors of the disease. Polio is a disease that affects sufferers for life, paralysing their limbs at a young age, which gradually become contorted and deformed over the years. While India has been polio free for three years, the country has a backlog of cases that runs into the millions.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has played an integral role in this achievement. Over the years it has donated more than $500m to India’s polio vaccination campaign, which was launched in the late 1980s by Rotary International.
Over three days the Mandolin Media team that specialises in NGOs and charity video and film production, led by Creative Director Paul Driscoll, captured video footage and photography of Dr Varghese caring for his polio patients, many of whom travel from hundreds of miles away to avail his free treatment. We were given incredible access to the polio operating theatre, seeing first-hand Dr Varghese and his team surgically correct the deformed thigh and hip of a young woman who was unable to walk upright.
We saw Dr Varghese conduct his daily rounds of the ward, making adjustments to contraptions used to straighten deformed limbs, ensuring that patients are healing properly post op, assessing new patients on the ward to decide the required surgical procedure, and passing on his vast knowledge to a team of young surgeons.
It was a privilege for Mandolin Media to witness Dr Varghese’s devotion to his patients and the esteem he is held in by hospital staff. He begins his working day at 8am and rarely returns home before midnight, yet maintains an intense energy and determination to care for as many people as possible each day.
“The smiles and the thank you’s and the joy from the patients I see and I care for - it’s enough to sustain you for a lifetime”, he told us.
The team got to know the 20 or so polio patients on the ward, who are split between neighbouring female and male rooms. These young men and women live with the constant pain of their deformed limbs being corrected by millimetres a day. Yet all have hope that they will soon return to their families walking upright for the first time in their lives - often with the support of callipers and crutches - but with dignity nonetheless.
As a parting comment and with his voice cracking with emotion, Dr Varghese told us he dreams to see the St. Stephen’s polio ward shut down forever and the beds assigned to other patients. Only then would a lifetime’s ambition to rid India of a disease that has crippled millions of children be fully realised.