Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane? It’s The Heroic Doctor Who Run’s India’s Last Polio Ward
Bill Gates is undoubtedly a man whose opinion isn’t one to be ignored. Which is why when he listed out his “Five Heroes Saving The World“, we were excited to see an Indian on it – Dr Mathew Varghese.
A doctor who is treating one of the most dangerous diseases in the world, polio. Now, many would recognize that the disease is no longer actively prevalent in India, with the highly successful vaccine having completely eradicated it. However, there are still many who live with the disease, and it is these people who Dr Varghese chooses to help.
As part of last India’s last polio department, he works with patients who have to live with the disease even though the ward has not had a new case since 2011.
The Polio department at St Stephen’s wasn’t always devoid of new patients. In 1990, the ward allegedly admitted up to 3000 patients. It is this reduction in new cases that keeps Dr Varghese going. In fact, it is one of his lifelong dreams to see the ward completely empty.
An orthopaedic surgeon with about 30 years of experience, he says, “There are many polio-affected people out there who can lead a more normal life with the orthopaedic surgeries. It will take another 50 years for the devastating effects of polio to not be visible.” (Quote Source) The doctor first encountered polio while voluntarily treating the poor in a slum near Maulana Azad Medical College, where he was a senior resident.
And since then, he has dedicated his career to help those with the disease regardless of whether or not they can afford treatment. The polio program at St Stephen’s helps subsidize surgeries, physiotherapy and equipment for ailing patients, to bring them relief and hope.
And it is here, far from the glamour and money people often associate with the medical profession that he’s made his home.
In fact, he’s busy enough that the prestigious mention by Bill Gates wasn’t even really on his radar. Jokingly, he claims that he rarely ever uses the internet, and his Whatsapp is used mainly to look at X-Rays on his phone.
Despite the success of the vaccine, polio is notoriously hard to treat. The surgery involved being so tricky, that itis often something that is avoided while setting practical exams for residents because they’d probably fail. But this does nothing to discourage the doctor. In fact, he aims to create an educational organisation that would operate in all 29 states and focus on the social aspects of medical care.
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