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Forgotten and neglected: The late effects of poliomyelitis

Tuesday, October 15

Survivors of New Zealand’s Poliomyelitis epidemics in the 1950s and 60s are largely being forgotten and neglected as they suffer from the late effects of Polio, says the University of Minnesota’s Emeritus Professor of Neurology, Dr Gareth Parry.

As the Visiting Consultant Neurologist to Wellington Hospital, as well as a Research Professor for the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, Dr Parry will be giving an address at the inaugural Polio Symposium being held at the University of Otago, Wellington, this Friday, October 18.

“The late effects of Polio are common - affecting perhaps as many as 50% of individuals who contracted Polio,” says Dr Parry. “Yet sufferers from these phenomena express enormous frustration at the lack of awareness, and even dismissive attitude from some healthcare professionals.”

Polio New Zealand estimates there are approximately 12,000 Polio survivors in New Zealand who could suffer from the Late Effects of Polio of which the primary manifestation is fatigue which can be severely disabling.

“Associated pain in muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints is a common accompaniment,” says Dr. Parry. “Depression is also common as everyday activities become harder to perform because of the depletion of the motor neuron pool leading to fatigue.”

The symposium has been jointly organised by the University of Otago, Wellington, and Polio New Zealand to raise awareness of the Late Effects of Polio and recommended rehabilitation practices.

The University’s Associate Professor Rehabilitation, and current President of the Rehabilitation Association of New Zealand, Dr William Levack, will be presenting on current national and international perspectives on rehabilitation.

In addition, the University’s Head of Department of Primary Health Care & General Practice, Dr Lynn McBain, will be presenting to Polio survivors on working with their GPs.

The Symposium is an important step in educating both Polio survivors and the medical fraternity about the Late Effects of Polio, says Polio New Zealand’s President, Brian Robinson.

“Polio is a largely forgotten disease as it rarely occurs in first world countries such as New Zealand,” says Mr Robinson. “However, Polio survivors have ongoing need for medical support from the New Zealand public health system. For example, there is a real need to develop and fund suitable orthotics to help Polio survivors walk and prevent falls.”

To help educate the medical fraternity, particularly at a GP level, Polio New Zealand and The Duncan Foundation have been instrumental is setting up Polio “Health Pathways” with District Health Boards and Primary Health Organisations around the country.

These Health Pathways mean GPs treating a Polio survivor can access online information about the Late Effects of Polio and suggested rehabilitation practices.

Contracting Polio can also have long lasting psychological effects which is the subject of a mini-documentary premiering at the Symposium on Polio survivor, Philip Rudolph. Of Nga Puhi descent, Philip contracted the virus as a new-born baby which affected walking on one of his legs.

“I thought I was an ordinary kid until I reached school – when the other school kids started to give me nasty nick names,” recalls Philip. “By high school my learning had really suffered, and I was put in a special needs class. “

Philip says he became the “black sheep” of the family as he ran away from school and home, got into petty crime and was in out of Boys Hostels. He eventually committed serious crime and served time in Paremoremo Prison.

Philip recently attended a retreat run by Polio NZ – and met other polio survivors for the first time. He found an incredible similarity in the torment polio survivors suffered during the 1950s and 1960s from their classmates, their families, and from society.

The 15-minute documentary covers Philip’s life turn around and the great solace he finds in his art – carving – and particularly glass painting. Here is a link to the documentary:

Caption: Philip Rudolph


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