Better Than a Cure: One Man's Journey to Free the World of Polio
Reviewed: April 13, 2010
By: Ramesh Ferris with John Firth
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
192 pages, $21.95
Despite a publisher’s misfire back in January, Better than a Cure, the
remarkable story of Ramesh Ferris’ Cycle to Walk trip across Canada in
2008 is now on shelves in the Yukon, as well as available from online sellers
Chapters/Indigo and Amazon.ca.
Just this week the book was officially launched in Whitehorse on April 12, the
same day that Ferris started his original journey in 2008. There was a lot of
symbolism tied up in that date, which is why co- authors Ferris and Firth fought
so hard to maintain it.
As they note in the book:
“April 12 wasn’t a random pick.
“It was that day in 1980 that Terry Fox dipped his artificial leg in the
Atlantic Ocean, at Cape Spear, Newfoundland, which was to be our end point,
and started his cross-country run for cancer. I wanted to honor his memory.
“Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945.
“And April 12, 1955, was the day that Jonas Salk announced a vaccine had
been discovered and tested that gave us better than a cure for Polio –
it gave us a prevention.”
The idea that prevention is better than a cure is repeated time after time in
this book, in which the authors emphasize that there is no need for anyone,
anywhere, to ever get polio. A simple vaccine holds the disease at bay.
Ferris, who was born in India, caught the disease because the vaccine was not
available to him when he was an infant. Placed for adoption by his birth mother,
who had been abandoned by his father, and who could not begin to give him the
care he needed, Ramesh was adopted and brought to Canada by the Ferris family
in 1982, and was raised in Whitehorse during Ron Ferris’ tenure as Anglican
Bishop of the Yukon. He completed high school in Sault St. Marie after the Ferris
family moved there, but returned to Whitehorse as a young man after graduating
from college in Thunder Bay.
It was in that same year, 2001, that his father presented him with the documentation
that enabled him to track down and visit his birth mother in India in 2002.
It was during that visit to Coimbatore, where he saw polio victims far less
fortunate than himself, that the seeds of discontent which gave rise to his
cross-Canada hand cycle trip first took root. It was there, indeed, that he
saw his first hand cycle.
In much of the world, a world without forearm crutches, braces, wheelchairs
and the level of medical care available in Canada, Ferris realized that he would
have had a much different quality of life, perhaps have been doomed to be a
“crawler”, a person who must drag useless legs behind him in the
dust while hitching forward with hands and arms.
“I saw people sitting on the ground with skinny legs curled or twisted
up underneath them. I saw one or two who were crawling with cut up tire pieces
on their knees and wearing sandals like gloves on their hands.”
These sights caused him to become dissatisfied with the life he was living in
the Yukon, and started him thinking about what he might do to raise money for
research and, more importantly, to raise the profile of a disease that is almost
invisible in Canada, but could easily make a comeback if people become lax about
or resistant to the ounce of prevention that is worth tonnes of cure - the simple
Much of this book is the story of how Ferris recruited a support group and the
assistance of the local Rotary Club, as well as a province by province account
of his trip across Canada, but the authors have also provided some necessary
background on the disease itself and the history of the attempts to battle it.
There’s no cure for Poliomyelitis, but the vaccination provides almost
total immunity. The chances of suffering any sort of negative reaction to the
vaccines is miniscule compared to the absolute risk an unvaccinated person runs
if he or she comes into contact with a carrier of the virus.
Still, there are places in the world where the vaccine is resisted, and places
where it is claimed, as it was with the H1N1 vaccine last year, that the medicine
is part of a capitalist/western plot to poison the rest of the world or certain
racial groups. Additionally, the campaign to eradicate the disease has been
so successful in most Western nations that many people believe it is gone and
therefore don’t worry about continuing their immunization treatments.
This could be a recipe for a disastrous resurgence of the disease.
Ferris found that he was not the only person out there trying to raise awareness
for something as he travelled across the country. In the book he notes that
“there must be 40 or 50 cross-country fund raising campaigns going on
in Canada every summer.” Some even have similar names. In Winnipeg, for
instance, Cycle to Walk met Cycle to Work, an environmental awareness campaign.
There was also Wheel to Walk, a wheelchair based journey.
After he had finished his trek, Ferris had the opportunity, sponsored by Rotary
International, to return to India and participate in an immunization drive there.
His second trip effected him even more than his first and confirmed his sense
of urgency about his mission.
“If you know you haven’t received the vaccine and you are even remotely
questioning its value, I wish you could see what I saw in India! A young man
covered with dirt. He had small, shriveled legs and he crawled on the ground.
That is his life. It could have mine.”
Unless the drive to eradicate the disease continues it could make a comeback;
this is something which Ferris very much wants people to be aware of. The manner
in which H1N1 (or Swine Flu) spread world wide from its origin point in Mexico
last year provides a stark illustration of what globalization means when it
comes to viruses and diseases. Ferris is now the chair of the Whitehorse Rotary
Club’s PolioPlus committee, seeking to revive a program which was begun
in 1985, but which has lost its head of steam over the last 25 years.
The publication of this book is part of his effort to turn that around.