News / USA

USAID Polio Eradication Director Says Goal in Sight

Long fight to end disease strengthens health systems in poor countries

The United States global polio eradication program commits $1.4 billion  through USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here, Ellyn Ogden immunizes a child in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The United States global polio eradication program commits $1.4 billion through USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here, Ellyn Ogden immunizes a child in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

In the early 1950s a worldwide epidemic of polio was in full swing. In the United States alone, 58,000 cases of this highly infectious and crippling disease were reported in 1952. Vaccines - which can prevent, but not cure polio - halted its spread in the U.S. and much of the world.  

Since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched more than 20 years ago, cases of the highly infectious and crippling disease have decreased by 99 percent.  It was at about that time that Ellyn Odgen entered the field of public health with the Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea.

Getting started

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. 

Meetings with community leaders provide an opportunity for dialogue with polio experts in Uttar Pradesh, India.
Meetings with community leaders provide an opportunity for dialogue with polio experts in Uttar Pradesh, India.

"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 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," says Ogden.  

The experience taught her "to be flexible, to learn to live with ambiguity and to keep an open mind."

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

In 1997, she took the reins of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) polio program, coordinating U.S. efforts with health institutions, governments, community-based groups and donors around the world.

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.

Odgen 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.  

On the road

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

In 2000, rebel factions in the Congo agreed to a temporary ceasefire so that more than two million children could be immunized.
In 2000, rebel factions in the Congo agreed to a temporary ceasefire so that more than two million children could be immunized.

"I was seen as a credible emissary to negotiate the Days of Tranquility in the eastern Congo among the main warring factions. I had been discussing ceasefires 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 thought there is ongoing conflict."

The vaccinators

Odgen 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,'" she says. "There's never been a vaccination team here. And this is after almost 10 years of [vaccination] campaigns."  The children in this forgotten slum were vaccinated the next day.

So far in 2010, 71 polio cases have been confirmed compared to 155 over the same period last year. But for each of those cases, Odgen says as many as 1,000 children carry the virus, but show no symptoms and can infect others.

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

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."

Odgen 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

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing 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.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid