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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid