November 05, 2012 | By Bill Gates
Digital Mapping Technology Helps Polio Vaccinators Zero In
One of the things I’ve learned working on the global effort to eradicate polio is that it’s a complex war fought with lots of people on the ground and very detailed plans by vaccination teams to ensure that no children are overlooked. Now, public health officials have another tool in their arsenal: digital mapping technology to help identify remote hamlets and monitor the progress of vaccination teams.
One of the challenges getting from 99% to 100% on global polio eradication is making sure that all children are getting the multiple doses of the polio vaccine necessary to build up immunity.
To stop polio from circulating, you need to ensure that most children under the age of five receive several doses of the vaccine to build up their immunity. This is very difficult when there are hundreds of remote villages and hamlets that vaccinators don’t know about, nomadic tribes, and people in a castes or religious sects that don’t mix with the rest of the population.
Recently, public health officials began using GIS technology in Nigeria—one of the three remaining polio-endemic countries—to improve the quality of maps that tell vaccinators where to go. They are also using GPS technology to monitor the movement of vaccination teams. This kind of surveillance reduces the chances a team will miss an area that still harbors the disease.
The global health community has done an amazing job on polio, reducing the number of paralysis cases from 350,000 in 1988 to less than 200 so far this year. In 1988, more than 125 countries were endemic. Today, only three remain.
Yet, people sometimes ask me why we haven’t finished the job. It’s an understandable question since most countries got rid of polio a long time ago. One of the biggest reasons is that polio is a highly-contagious disease that travels quickly and easily. Another is the need to give each child multiple doses of the vaccine.
The use of digital mapping technology underlines the minute level of detail, planning, and organization required to completely eradicate polio. I’m optimistic that it will really help vaccinators cover the “last mile” in the delivery of polio vaccines.
Meanwhile, we can’t afford to ignore the other important pieces necessary to eradicate polio—sustaining political will and funding so vaccinators can reach children in every village, and ensuring accountability so the disease has nowhere else to go.
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