The Only Polio Ward in India

Providing free corrective care to those disabled by the virus
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St. Stephen's Hospital, situated near old Delhi, has the only polio ward in the country. It has on average 10 beds devoted to polio patients. Given that polio is not an emergency case, most hospitals struggle to give polio patients immediate care. However, St. Stephen's is a rare find. It offers free-of-cost polio corrective surgeries to patients who come from far corners of the country. The orthopedic team builds the braces and prosthetics in-house, which keeps their costs low. Here's a glimpse inside the ward.

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Polio breaks down limbs, most noticeably in the legs. Braces are custom-made for each of the patients within the hospital.


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Ankle foot orthoses for polio patients are stacked in the basement of the hospital.


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Positive and negatives are made for prosthetics using rudimentary materials.


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Polio-corrective surgeries enable the patient to walk again with the help of assistive device. This patient had his feet turned inward; through a series of surgeries, Dr. Varghese, who runs the polio ward, was able to rotate the foot 180 degrees.


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Most polio corrective surgeries cost anywhere from $500 - $1,000, a fraction of what they would cost in the U.S.


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Dr. Varghese has several assistants who work under his guidance, and train in his orthopedic practices.


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The hospital has performed approximately 7,000 surgeries since the program began in 1987. Recently, they've been seeing older patients as the polio virus is fading in India; but those were affected 10- 20 years ago when the virus was at its height are now finding treatment.


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The polio ward will house about 150 patients each year. Each patient has different needs -- some cases can be corrected without the help of a prosthetic, others need assistive devices, and most require braces. (All photos by Esha Chhabra)


Previously: Eradicating Polio in India: Portraits

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Esha Chhabra is a journalist covering India's polio-eradication efforts on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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