Feb 10, 2015

Film review: 'Every Last Child'

In Tom Roberts' timely Pakistan-set documentary "Every Last Child," courageous volunteers, the World Health Organization and local police join forces to combat the Taliban's murderous opposition to polio immunization -- a problem that has led to a serious resurgence of the incurable disease that threatens to go global. Roberts examines the situation through the different perspectives of a polio-crippled beggar, the father of an afflicted toddler, a key WHO official and a family of vaccinators. Ali Faisal Zaidi's vibrant lensing unites these disparate elements, vividly foregrounding the country and its at-risk children, and extending the film's appeal beyond the merely informational.
The lifelong damage polio causes -- particularly in a country like Pakistan, with few dispensations for the disabled -- plays out graphically midway through the film as the camera tracks Habib Mehsud as he navigates the streets with enormous difficulty on a hand-wheeled bike, bemoaning his fate and finding hope only in the afterlife. Devastated father Zabih Ullah carries his afflicted baby son, whom he sees get fitted for leg braces that may help him achieve a measure of mobility and avoid a future as a beggar.
Roberts also highlights the work of Gulnaz Shesazi, who saw her niece and her sister-in-law shot to death by Taliban fanatics during a door-to-door vaccination drive, but who perseveres despite the danger. Roberts cuts back to her with other female relatives at various reprises: on an expedition to the beach, mourning at the tombs of her dead, mentoring other nieces in vaccination protocol. Her dedication and bravery register strongly, as does her matter-of-fact, completely natural approach, which cuts through any veiled exoticism that might mark her as "other." Yet these qualities fail to fully justify the extended, somewhat disproportionate time Roberts allots to her.
The bulk of "Every Last Child" focuses on the larger ongoing vaccination effort as it seeks to deal with the murders of inoculating volunteers by Taliban militants, reports of which flood TV news screens. The film opens in medias res as armed police are given a pep talk and sent out to protect vaccinators. Buses are regularly stopped at checkpoints so vaccine can be administered to the children on board, affording Roberts multiple occasions for affecting closeups of kids.
Meanwhile, at WHO headquarters, Dr. Elias Durry, head of polio eradication in Pakistan, and his adviser, Barbar bin Atta, spend frustrating hours on phones, struggling to come up with a solution to the continued Taliban attacks. One of the most fascinating aspects of Roberts' documentary concerns the extent to which both sides of the conflict deploy weapons that seem almost stereotypical in their ideological strategy.
The Taliban exploits the somewhat understandable paranoia arising from suspicion of the West, sustained by the initial connection between AIDS and polio vaccine, and newly fueled by drone attacks. It adds to that flat-out lies based on cultural fears, stating that inoculation leads to premature maturity in girls and sterility in boys. Finally, the Taliban finishes off its arguments with summary executions.
The West-centered anti-polio initiative counters with political maneuvering, tying itself to popular local politicians. It also completely revamps its image by "rebranding," dropping all references to foreign organizations and eliminating the word "polio," presenting itself instead as the dispenser of a health kit against nine diseases (polio included). Well-protected one-day campaigns replace the longer drives, and Pakistan soon sees a significant drop in polio cases. Impressive though the results of the WHO's campaign to eradicate polio may be, it is Zaidi's lensing of the streets, waterways and people of Pakistan that lingers in the mind.
Post Polio Litaff, Association A.C _APPLAC Mexico

World War Two veteran who dedicated his life to helping Polio sufferers to receive MBE

Joseph Fisher, 92, from Gosforth has worked tirelessly to help polio sufferers ever since contracting the disease while serving in The Army

Joseph Fisher, from Gosforth is on the New Years Honours List
Joseph Fisher, from Gosforth is on the New Years Honours List
Joseph Fisher with his wife ChristineA World War Two veteran who has dedicated his life to helping Polio sufferers in the North East is set to receive an MBE from the Queen.
Joseph Fisher was 23 when he contracted Polio while serving in The Army in Burma and had to be shipped back to Britain to recover.
Three months later, left with fragile health and an uncertain future, Mr Fisher said he struggled to find his way in post-war London, where he found it difficult to hold down a job.
But, he said, he was always sure of one thing – that people with Polio can and should work.
The 92-year-old, from Gosforth, has since devoted his life to helping people who have suffered from Polio to rebuild their self-esteem and earn a living.
Mr Fisher, who will receive an MBE for services to charity and the British Polio Fellowship, has worked tirelessly to change perceptions of disabled people in the North East, masterminding a Polio hostel and training centre in Jesmond in 1954.
Joseph Fisher with his wife Christine
He said: “By the time I returned from Burma in 1946 the war was over and I was in a pretty bad way, I had 95% disability at the time and paralysis down one side of my body. I didn’t know what the future would bring, I was told I would never work again.
“But that didn’t sit well with me and within two or three months I was working in a hotel in London. I decided I was not going to let it get the better of me.
“But my health packed in again so I came back to Newcastle and helped out with the family business, my family ran a wholesale jewellers in Newcastle city centre.”
Mr Fisher, who had started attending meetings with an organisation set up for people with Polio in London, was determined to do something to help sufferers in his home town.
He said: “When I started attending meetings with the Infantile Paralysis Fellowship in London I realised I was very fortunate because I had a supportive family and wasn’t short of money.
“But a lot of people were far less fortunate than me and couldn’t make much of a life for themselves or earn a living, but I felt that just because they couldn’t walk very well didn’t mean they couldn’t do something with their hands and their brains.
“I wanted them to feel they were taking part. Very often, just a bit of TLC and understanding does wonders. Simple adaptations can make a huge difference to disabled people.”
Joseph Fisher (left) donates money
Joseph Fisher (left) donates money
Mr Fisher, who has two sons and three grandchildren, said his own experiences made him determined to prove that disabled people weren’t getting the help they needed.
After moving back to Newcastle, the Infantile Paralysis Fellowship asked him if he would set up a branch in the North East.
He took up the challenge and began a 60 year partnership that saw him transform the lives of Polio sufferers across the region and, indeed, the whole of the UK.
With the help of a £13,000 donation from RAG at Newcastle University, Mr Fisher bought a house in Jesmond and converted it into a hostel and training centre for 15-20 Polio sufferers to live and work in.
He said: “We brought people from all over to live at our purpose-built hostel with the intention of teaching them a trade. It was carrying on what I had always believed which is that these people were employable.
Joseph Fisher, from Gosforth is on the New Years Honours List and will be getting an MBE for his efforts in setting up a Hostel to help people affected with Polio
Joseph Fisher, from Gosforth is on the New Years Honours List and will be getting an MBE for his efforts in setting up a Hostel to help people affected with Polio.

“They lived in a house all together, they worked and earned a living wage, part of which they gave back to us so they felt that they were contributing.
“I gave them back their self esteem. With us, people who had recovered from the disease could get their confidence back, learn a trade, earn some money, and many of them then left us to get married and start new jobs.”
Doctors came from all over Europe to see what Joseph and his small team of dedicated volunteers were doing for Polio sufferers in Newcastle, and his revolutionary approach was replicated abroad in the years that followed.
Mr Fisher, who now suffers from Post Polio Syndrome, a hangover from the disease which causes the health of polio sufferers to deteriorate in later life, said: “People were falling like flies from this disease every year. It was a very different time.
“The mentality towards disabled people changed a bit after the work we did. It helped to change the perception of disabled people.
“And I proved what I set out to prove, that these people were employable and should be able to work.”

Post Polio Litaff, Association A.C _APPLAC Mexico

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