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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid