Tadworth Polio survivors call for one last push to eradicate polio

  • David and Sue Smith, who have been married for 43 years, first met on an isolation unit as they recovered from polio as children
  • They call on the UK Government to deliver on its promised commitments to fight polio
  • Opportunity to rid the world of polio virus by the next general election in 2020
  • David and Sue are two of 120,000 Britons still suffering with after-effects of the disease
  • They meet with local MP Crispin Blunt to ask him to become a Polio Champion

A married couple who first met as young children on a hospital isolation unit in 1949 are calling on the UK Government to deliver on its commitments to fight polio and work to eradicate the disease globally.

David and Sue Smith, who live in Lower Kingswood near Tadworth and have been married for 43 years, are supporting the One Last Push campaign and urging the public to put pressure on the Government to help rid the world of the virus before the next UK General Election in 2020, in the hope that other children will never have to suffer as they did.

Up until the 1980s, polio was still paralysing people here in the UK and Sue and David are two of more than 120,000 men and women suffering from the after-effects of this devastating disease. Globally the number of cases is in steep decline: polio is now only endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria and a cheap vaccine is available. However, more still needs to be done to eradicate the disease completely.

Sue Smith said:

“I was 15 months old and David was 12 months old when we were placed on the same isolation unit near Gravesend in Kent where both our families lived and worked. I don’t know for sure how I contracted polio but I had been at a party and the next day everyone at the party was put in isolation. I was in hospital for six months.

“Polio has had a lasting impact on my right leg, which is two and-a-half inches shorter and I wear a caliper [leg brace]. David is more severely affected and he has always worn a full length caliper on his left leg.”

Despite their physical disabilities, Sue and David have lived – and continue to live - full and active lives. Before he retired, David was an accountant who worked for the NHS before joining the finance team at Marks & Spencer’s head office in London for 20 years. He is now an advisor at the Citizens Advice in Reigate and is also the treasurer and trustee of a charity which helps people who have had a stroke.

Sue was a primary school teacher who has taught in schools in Kent and Surrey, with a particular focus on music. She is very active in the Women’s Institute, sings in two choirs and is also a member of a handbell team. They have two sons: Adam, who is 40 and Oliver is 38; as well as four grandchildren aged nine, six, five and two.

Sue adds: “Having polio and bringing up two children impacted the children in a good way, because they learnt to adapt. For example, when we went to the seaside, while most children just ran to sea. Adam and Oliver would help get out the chairs and picnic blanket.

“We have always babysat our grandchildren and they have got used to being carried up the stairs under my arm, in the same way that our sons were. And they’ve learnt to sit down and shuffle on your bottom to get down the stairs, because that’s how Granny does it.”

According to David, perhaps his only regret is that they have never been able to dance. He says:

“We’re both musical: I play the guitar and Sue plays the piano - and I feel that dancing is one thing that polio has stopped us from enjoying.”

He said: “Even if polio were eradicated today, that would still leave a generation of people across the world who have to endure the effects of polio for the rest of their lives. The right infrastructure and health provision makes a huge difference – and it will be a huge challenge living with the effects of polio in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

“We are pleased to do what we can to raise awareness of the One Last Push campaign, and ensure that we were one of the last generations to suffer from polio, saving thousands of others from having to live with the consequences of this preventable disease.”

Sue acknowledges how lucky she and David were that the NHS existed when they contracted polio in 1949. She says: “If it hadn’t been there, our families would have struggled to pay for our treatment and we wouldn’t have had access to the equipment we needed.”

Sue and David met with their MP, Crispin Blunt on Friday 24 February to ask him to become a Polio Champion and promise to do what he can to ensure the UK government holds firm on its commitment to end polio and provides the support needed to wipe it out by the end of this parliamentary term.

Mrs Smith said: “We are delighted that Mr Blunt agreed to meet with us and grateful for his support. The powerful message to politicians is that they could be responsible for ensuring that polio is eradicated globally in the next five years.

“It’s not just a developing world problem it’s something people in the UK need to think about, polio still exists and it doesn’t need to. We should all be involved in the last push to eradicate the disease.”

Crispin Blunt MP said: “After centuries of suffering caused by poliovirus, its end is in sight. There is a genuine opportunity for us to eradicate polio by 2020 – and we need leaders to back the efforts of the millions of volunteers and health workers around the world who are working to end the disease.

“I am pleased that the UK Government is fully committed to the global eradication of polio. The UK has been a staunch supporter of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and in 2013, the UK committed £300 million over six years to polio eradication, which will help vaccinate up to 360 million children. With India declared polio-free in 2014, a world without polio is now tantalisingly close, and it is crucial to maintain international momentum.

He added: “I am pleased to be associated with this campaign to recognise the wonderful work that is being done to eradicate polio. Together with One Last Push, we have the opportunity to change the world for better and deliver a lasting global legacy.

By visiting the campaign website, www.onelastpush.org, members of the public can find out more about how they can help by signing a petition to the Secretary of State for International Development, calling for her support to help us finally consign polio to history by continuing to commit to funding the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

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The One Last Push campaign

We have an opportunity to end polio globally before the next UK Government election in 2020.

The One Last Push campaign brings together people from across the UK who want to make sure we don’t miss this opportunity. It will be only the second human disease in history that we have ever managed to eradicate (small pox was the first).

Some of the One Last Push community are members of the British public who contracted polio themselves and are still living with the effects of the disease today. Others are simply people who believe that no child should have to suffer from the devastating effects of polio when we have a vaccine that costs as little as 9p. They have signed up to be a part of One Last Push to help make sure we reach every child.

And we are nearly there. In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared India to be polio-free. In July 2015 it announced that Nigeria is also on course for a polio-free future with no new cases detected for twelve months. Only Pakistan and Afghanistan have reported cases of wild poliovirus this year — and total cases are in steep decline.

The effort to end polio has been a tremendous collaboration between governments, NGOs, health workers and volunteers all over the world and the UK Government has played their part in helping us get to where we are today.

The purpose of the One Last Push campaign is raise awareness of the great opportunity in front of us and mobilise the British public to ensure that the UK Government continues to play their part in putting a stop to polio for good. It takes just a few minutes to make a difference. Members of the public can simply visit http://onelastpush.org/ and sign a petition asking the Secretary of State for International Development to make sure the UK Government keeps its promise to help end polio.

The campaign has been created in partnership with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, British Polio Fellowship Global Poverty Project, RESULTS, and Silversurfers.com, a leading social community for over 50s, many of whom still remember the terrible impact the polio virus had on Britain in the 1950s and 1960s.  

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative

The goal of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is to complete the eradication and containment of all wild, vaccine-related and Sabin polioviruses, such that no child ever again suffers paralytic poliomyelitis. 
Launched in 1988 after the World Health Assembly passed a resolution to eradicate polio, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, along with its partners, has helped countries to make huge progress in protecting the global population from this debilitating disease. As a result, global incidence of polio has decreased by 99% since GPEI’s foundation and an estimated 10 million people today are walking who would otherwise have been paralysed by the disease.

The GPEI is a partnership between the WHO, UNICEF, the global volunteer organisation Rotary International and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The GPEI is the biggest public-private health effort in history, involving 200 countries, 20m volunteers and 2.5bn children vaccinated.