Sunday, November 6, 2011

Eradicating Polio: the TED talk

Instead of reading an article about polio, I decided to watch the TED talk that Bruce Aylward, the head of the polio eradication program at WHO, gave this past March in which he described the efforts of the past 20 years to eradicate polio and the changes that have been made recently which are showing very promising results.

The program has been working to eradicate polio since the 1980s, and did so effectively across the globe except in four locations: Northern Nigera and India, Souther Afghanistan, and neighboring Pakistan. There are three types of polio and Type II has been completely eradicated, but types I and III still persist in these areas. Last year there was an alarming outbreak of polio in countries that had not seen the disease in years, emphasizing the importance of complete eradication as opposed to simply control of the virus. With the amount of interconnectedness and around the world traveling that goes on today, having the virus persist in even one country can still put the entire world at risk. Aylward therefore claimed that "the scientific miracle of this decade ought to be eradication of polio."

Complete eradication of a disease has been tried six times in history and has been successful only once, with small pox. Aylward called eradication the "venture capital of public health" in that it is very expensive but when successful, the pay off both financially and socially makes it completely worth the initial monetary cost. He cited a congressman who claims that the cost of eradicating small pox now pays itself off every 26 days and that the eradication of polio would save the poorest countries in the world $50 billion in the next 25 years alone (saving in costs of treatment and vaccination mainly).

Eradicating polio is more complicated than eradicating small pox because there are more people who have the disease and because the vaccine is fickle and especially sensitive and prone to deteriorating when exposed to heat. Recently, the program decided to create a new vaccination which would be more effective at targeting the remaining two types of polio. The first results of this new vaccine were received in 2009: in Afghanistan, it had twice the impact as the old vaccine; In the northern regions of India, not a single case of polio-induced child paralyzation has been reported in the past six months for the first time in history; Nigeria saw a 95% reduction in cases over the past year.

With these results, Bruce concluded that the combination of smart people, smart technology and smart investment can make the goal of eradicating polio a reality.

watch it here:

-Emily Mitchell

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