Ending polio with Richard, Kinshasa, DR Congo
Richard Elaka, 60, is a polio survivor in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s sprawling capital. He was infected at the age of seven and has been moving around on crutches ever since.
For more than 20 years, Richard has been a community outreach worker informing parents in the commune of Makala in Kinshasa about the importance of vaccination and the risks of non-vaccination. "I realised that many families don't get their children vaccinated because of a lack of knowledge," he explains.
Poliomyelitis, known commonly as polio, is a deadly viral infection spread not only through coughing and sneezing but also though contact with an infected person’s faeces.
Whilst the majority of those infected with poliovirus will have only very minor flu like symptoms, in its most severe form, polio can affect the spinal cord, causing paralysis and even death.
"Vaccination is a gesture of love
that protects the children."
At his own pace, supported by his two crutches, Richard walks the uneven streets of his community to share his story with the mothers of the commune of Makala.
"In the morning I wake up, I take my awareness materials and go meet families with 0-59 month old children,” Richard says.
“When I arrive in a family, I make the parents understand that vaccination is a gesture of love that protects the children. When they vaccinate their children, they are protecting them.”
“For parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated, I explain to them that I am myself a victim of polio. Look at me. If you don't want your children to be vaccinated, you see the consequences.
"When a child has polio, he will be disabled for the rest of their life. Your children need to be immunised."