News / USA

Leading the US Fight to End Polio

Ellyn Ogden travels the world in an effort to eradicate the crippling disease

Ellyn Ogden, USAID's worldwide polio eradication coordinator, immunizes a child during a festive kick-off event for a polio vaccination campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Ellyn Ogden, USAID's worldwide polio eradication coordinator, immunizes a child during a festive kick-off event for a polio vaccination campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Rosanne Skirble

This month, the Pakistan government launched a door-to-door vaccination campaign against polio. It's the latest operation in the 20-year global fight against the crippling disease.

While polio cases have decreased by 99 percent worldwide over the past two decades, Pakistan is among the few countries - including India, Afghanistan and Nigeria - where polio remains endemic. American Ellyn Ogden's leadership of the USAID Polio Program has been key in efforts to eradicate the disease.

Getting started

Ogden's father was a business executive who moved the family with his job every two years. That lifestyle suited Ogden.

"For me it was exciting because I would get bored if I knew a place too well," she says. "So I was always looking forward to the next and meeting new people and seeing a new place."

It was a state of mind that set the tone for her future. Ogden went to Tulane University in New Orleans, majoring in international relations and pre-med. Instead of becoming a doctor, as her parents had hoped, she stayed at Tulane for a graduate degree in public health. She also gained valuable clinical skills working in hospitals at the same time.

"I spent a year as a nursing assistant. I worked in the laboratory taking blood samples and seeing how laboratory diagnostics work. I worked in cardiac care."

Gaining experience

What Ogden lacked was field experience. So, she and her husband, who she met in graduate school, joined the Peace Corps. They were assigned to Papua New Guinea in 1987. For two years she ran a provincial disease control program for 80,000 people, managing on a limited budget, with scarce medical supplies and drugs.

"And so I ended up trying to work around some of those obstacles and reach out to women in particular through non-governmental groups, through smaller women's clubs," she says, "and try to provide information in a more sensitive way that would bring them in for services without setting them up to be ostracized by their community."

Ellyn Ogden and Dr. Saurabh Sharma, WHO Surveillance Focal Point/Bihar, check the fingers of every child in the market for ink-marks - a sign that the child was immunized during the round.
Ellyn Ogden and Dr. Saurabh Sharma, WHO Surveillance Focal Point/Bihar, check the fingers of every child in the market for ink-marks - a sign that the child was immunized during the round.

That experience taught her some valuable public health lessons that remain with her today. "Be flexible. Learn to live with ambiguity. Keep an open mind."

Targeting polio

After leaving the Peace Corps, Ogden continued to work on international public health projects.

In 1997, she took the reins of the USAID polio program, coordinating U.S. efforts with health institutions, governments, community-based groups and donors around the world. Ogden says great strides have been made since 1988, when the World Health Assembly targeted polio for eradication. The disease then was endemic in 125 countries.

"Now we are only in four countries that have never stopped polio: India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and a 99 percent reduction in cases and a huge restriction geographically of where the virus is located," she says.

Ogden spends a lot time abroad. So much so that sometimes her husband and their two sons go with her. She manages large grants, attends mass immunizations, visits laboratories and supervises work in many countries. She says war is no excuse to stop immunization and uses well-honed diplomatic skills and technical know-how to forge ahead.

Finding solutions


In 2009, Ogden was honored with the USAID Award for Heroism.

Ellyn Ogden and Dr. Baskar, WHO Surveillance Officer in Uttar Pradesh India, locate twins that were both affected by polio - a devastating blow to the family. Guidance was provided on how to care for the children to avoid deformities and where to go for a
Ellyn Ogden and Dr. Baskar, WHO Surveillance Officer in Uttar Pradesh India, locate twins that were both affected by polio - a devastating blow to the family. Guidance was provided on how to care for the children to avoid deformities and where to go for a

"I was seen as a credible emissary to negotiate the Days of Tranquility in the eastern Congo among the main warring factions," says Ogden. "I had been discussing cease fires with some of the key forces in Angola when Jonas Savimbi was still there. And even today, I have an opportunity in Afghanistan to see where we can allow safe access and the vaccinators safe passage even though there is on-going conflict.

Ogden works in remote areas, in crowded urban centers and slums. Her first question, like the one she asked of textile workers at a dye pit in Nigeria, is always whether their children have been vaccinated.

"And they said, 'No. There's never been a vaccination team here,'" says Ogden. "And this is after almost 10 years of campaigns."

The children in that forgotten slum were vaccinated the next day.

Ogden cautions that the failure to eradicate polio would be detrimental to public health, not only in communities where polio still exists, but worldwide.

"Because if we can't get this simple 13-cent vaccine to all of the children in the world, how are we going to bring the more difficult things to them?"

Ogden says the fight to eradicate polio is one children of the world deserve. It would rescue four million lives over the next 20 years, she says, and it is our moral obligation to do so.

You May Like

As US Strikes Syria, China Sees Parallels at Home

Beijing is debating how much support to give international coalition against IS militants and trying to figure out how many Chinese nationals may have joined group overseas More

CDC: Ebola Could Infect 1.4 Million by January

US health officials say if efforts to curb the outbreak are not increased, cases will soar dramatically by early next year More

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in 5 Countries

US Agency for International Development partners with celebrities to call attention to importance of education for girls worldwide More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid