Polio is a highly infectious virus that cripples those children it does not kill. In 2002 the World Health Organization declared it had contained polio to three countries and was close to eradicating it completely.
But it didn’t happen that way.
A vaccine with polio’s track record became a line in the sand for Muslim clerics when the polio vaccine was banned in northern Nigeria due to claims by clerics and politicians that the vaccines were tainted and a Western ploy to spread HIV and sterility. Since the ban, over 3000 children were crippled by polio and over 20 countries re-infected with the Nigeria strain of the virus.
But now, the ban has been lifted and immunization campaigns sponsored by PolioPlus, the “most ambitious program in Rotary’s history;” partnered with UNICEF and the Gates Foundation; are back on the streets administering the polio vaccine drop by drop.
As Muslim suspicion of the polio vaccine lingers, Nigeria is coping with thousands of polio survivors and the continuing Muslim-Christian friction in Africa's most populous and potentially unstable nations.
Before beginning my freelance career, I worked as a staff photographer for eleven years on the award-winning staff of The Washington Times. While the bulk of my daily assignments focused on covering Congress, political campaigns and The White House, my true photographic calling was, and continues to be, documenting the humanitarian struggle of women and children around the world.
A photographer friend of mine recently critiqued my website and told me I ought to remove some of the depressing content. That people do not want to see stories about rape, obstetric fistula, and polio epidemics. I agree. Most people do not want to see such things, but they need to see them. In the old media world, these stories from Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are usually allocated 15 inches on page A-16 or shoehorned into 30-second slots midway through news broadcasts, if they are reported at all.
The mind cannot fathom the horror of a humanitarian crisis in 30 seconds. Only when one bears witness to a scene frozen in a photograph or hears the cries of a traumatized woman or child, can they begin to internalize such injustice and suffering; only when people internalize such suffering are they moved to act.
The new media world is already a buffet piled high with eye-candy that offers little food for thought or sustenance for the soul. As journalists, we must dedicate ourselves to keeping a place for the disadvantaged at the new media table. I believe that using visual media to document what ails our world is more important now than ever before.
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Mary F. Calvert