Jeansonne helps eradicate polio in exotic landscape

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 17, 2004

A journey to India with humanitarian purpose evolved into much more than that for Amanda Jeansonne.

The exotic culture of the country captivated all her senses as she arrived in Delhi, one of about 60 people from throughout the United States who had come to administer polio vaccine to children under the auspices of Rotary International.

&uot;The first thing that hits you is the living conditions in Delhi. You notice the smells, the noise, so many things that are hard to describe,&uot; she said as she exhibited some of her hundreds of photographs on a computer screen.

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&uot;The market, the throngs of people, the bicycles, the rickshaws, motorcycles and buses &045;&045; and children everywhere. Only about 50 percent of the children go to school. And the literacy rate is about 50 percent,&uot; she said.

The eradication of polio is the top priority of Rotary International, which has contributed $52.6 million to polio eradication in India alone.

As the wife of Natchez Rotarian Bennie Jeansonne, Amanda Jeansonne heard about the program and applied to join the group, which left for India on Feb. 14 and returned on Feb. 28.

Armed with a suitcase full of clothes donated by Kelly’s Kids of Natchez, Jeansonne arrived in India thinking she would get right to work on vaccinating children.

&uot;I thought we’d be immunizing the whole time, but then I realized that we needed to learn something about the country before jumping right into that,&uot; she said.

Indeed, she had envisioned organized efforts with lines of parents and children waiting their turns and everyone on the Rotary team with an assigned task &045;&045; in other words, the way she might have set up the clinics.

&uot;I knew just how I would have organized it. But we got to the first booth where we were going to work, and it was total chaos. There was no line and no counting. It took half the day for me to accept the fact that I couldn’t fix this,&uot; she said. &uot;And the treats we brought caused riots. They took the focus away from the vaccine.&uot;

Still, the work went on for two days, from the indoor setup to the streets and neighborhoods, as workers sought families to determine whether the children there had taken part in the vaccinations.

&uot;We marked the pinkie finger on each child who got the vaccine,&uot; she said. &uot;So it was easy to check.&uot;

The drops, administered orally, are part of an international effort to stop the spread of the poliovirus by the end of 2004. The disease still exists in parts of Africa and South Asia.

A highly infectious disease, polio can cause paralysis and even death. In recent years, India has been a country with some success in vaccination programs, reporting 218 cases nationwide in 2003, down from 1,600 cases in 2002.

Rotary launched its Polio Plus program in 1985, with a goal of immunizing all the world’s children against the disease in a 20-year period. Second only to the U.S. government, Rotary is the largest private sector contributor to the global eradication effort.

Jeansonne and fellow travelers visited other parts of India outside of Delhi, including Agra, where they saw he famous Taj Mahal; Varanasi, where they cruised on the Ganges River; and Jaipur, where they toured palaces and museums.

India’s architecture, rich and beautiful, often was a backdrop of heart-wrenching poverty, Jeansonne said. &uot;We stayed in beautiful hotels and visited beautiful places, and our host families showed us modern buildings and golf courses; but right next to those places were the worst poverty and pollution.&uot;

Wherever they went, they drew a crowd, she said. &uot;Most of them rarely see an American, and they always wanted to know why we were there. When our interpreter would tell them we were there to help eradicate polio, they seemed impressed.&uot;