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

Official: S. Sudan President, Rebel Leader to Meet in Tanzania

Talks part of effort to end conflict in country that has left more than 10,000 people dead, displaced more than 1.5 million others More

Dutch Deny Link to Mystery Submarine Off Sweden

Netherlands denies Russian claim that 'foreign vessel' photographed in waters off Sweden could be Dutch More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles 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.
China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Lawi
X
William Ide
October 20, 2014 10:23 AM
China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Nigeria Agrees to Cease-Fire With Boko Haram

Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have agreed to a cease-fire. The Nigerian government issued an order Friday, telling all military chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement in all theaters of operations. Why now and the significance of the agreement are questions on some people’s minds. VOA's Mariama Diallo reports.
Video

Video Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

The offensive by Islamic State militants against the northern Syrian city of Kobani has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to Turkey. They receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from the town of Suruc a few kilometers from the border.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.

All About America

AppleAndroid