infection science

Life after polio: Fatiha's story

Fatiha, who works in GSK’s vaccines team, contracted polio as a child in the 1960s. The introduction of a vaccine in the 1950s means that many of us now take life without polio for granted. Here, Fatiha describes her experience of polio and why she wanted to work for GSK.

When I was just a child, doctors told my parents that I would spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. When I was three, I caught polio – a disease spread by a virus that can leave its victim paralysed in a matter of hours.

Our commitment to polio eradication infographic

After contracting the disease, I was paralysed for two years. As I was so young when I caught polio, I remember little about that time. But my family and I think that I came into contact with the virus when we were living in North Africa. There, as it was so hot I was always playing in a little river near the house. The polio virus is spread by person-to-person contact but it can also enter the body through contaminated water.

My school summer holidays were spent having surgery. The doctors remained sceptical that I would walk again but after many operations, by the age of ten I was walking.  Although my left leg has been permanently damaged by the disease, I don’t need crutches or a wheelchair.

Almost five decades later, I am walking, sometimes with corrective shoes that compensate for the shorter left leg and avoid back pain. I have a job that I enjoy, and I love spending time with my family and friends. Despite suffering from polio, I am living a life like anybody else’s.

Given my experiences of polio, I had for a long time been interested in working for a healthcare company.

Over the years, polio has caused me a lot of pain. But, it has also helped me to be more open-minded and to develop strengths I might not have otherwise had. I won’t be running the New York marathon anytime soon, but how many people can do that anyway?

Given my experiences with polio, I had for a long time been interested in working for a healthcare company. GSK’s history of supporting efforts to eradicate polio stretches over more than half a century, having begun producing a vaccine in the 1950s. I wanted to work for a company that was helping, through immunisation, to prevent people contracting this disease. Six years ago, I joined GSK and now work in the vaccines team.

For many people polio is very far away – it belongs in another time and place. But for those living in polio’s last strongholds – like Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – it remains a very real threat. That’s why it is important that we keep spreading the word about polio, that we keep educating people so that they understand the signs and symptoms of the disease. It is not enough just to focus on the towns and cities. We need to reach everyone, in even the smallest villages, in every country.

Anil Dutta, our medical vice-president and paediatrician explains why he’s confident the global community will succeed in eradicating polio