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

Multimedia Obama, Modi Resolve Nuclear Deal Issues

Leaders find resolution on issues of liability of suppliers to India in event of nuclear accident, US demands to track whereabouts of material supplied to country More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track 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.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid