i initiative

Space and Development…Increasing Access to Space in Africa

Polio Eradication and Space Technologies

Posted by Simon Adebola on May 8, 2009

At the last University of Michigan graduation ceremony Larry Page gave the commencement address.

He had this to say about Polio

“In late March 1996, soon after I had moved to Stanford for grad school, my Dad had difficultly breathing and drove to the hospital. Two months later, he died. And that was it. I was completely devastated. Many years later, after a startup, after falling in love, and after so many of life’s adventures, I found myself thinking about my Dad. Lucy and I were far away in a steaming hot village walking through narrow streets. There were wonderful friendly people everywhere, but it was a desperately poor place — people used the bathroom inside and it flowed out into the open gutter and straight into the river. We touched a boy with a limp leg, the result of paralysis from polio. Lucy and I were in rural India — one of the few places where Polio still exists. Polio is transmitted fecal to oral, usually through filthy water. Well, my Dad had Polio. He went on a trip to Tennessee in the first grade and caught it. He was hospitalized for two months and had to be transported by military DC-3 back home — his first flight. My Dad wrote, “Then, I had to stay in bed for over a year, before I started back to school”. That is actually a quote from his fifth grade autobiography. My Dad had difficulty breathing his whole life, and the complications of Polio are what took him from us too soon. He would have been very upset that Polio still persists even though we have a vaccine. He would have been equally upset that back in India we had polio virus on our shoes from walking through the contaminated gutters that spread the disease. We were spreading the virus with every footstep, right under beautiful kids playing everywhere. The world is on the verge of eliminating polio, with 328 people infected so far this year. Let’s get it done soon. Perhaps one of you will do that.”

This is a worthy challenge and one worth pursuing. The latest monthly situation report from the Polio Eradication Initiative showed that apart from Nigeria which is one of the four remaining endemic countries (the others are Afghanistan, India and Pakistan), there are 13 reinfected African countries. Nigeria has been responsible for exporting the virus to most of these countries and also accounts for the majority of the number of polio cases recorded worldwide this year. The eradication of polio even though a worldwide challenge is thus pre-eminently an African imperative.

The use of space technologies in solving this challenge is very important. The curbing of the spread of polio relies largely on immunization campaigns to prevent its transmission. There are routine, supplementary and mop-up immunization campaigns. The planning of these immunization activities requires a lot of scientific and logistic input to make them effective and successful. For example in the event where there is focal transmission as evidenced by Wild Polio Virus transmission followed by Acute Flaccid Paralysis, immediate action is required. This would require continuing active surveillance and also conducting mop-up immunization campaigns in the area, based on the suspicion that many others in the area potentially carry the virus and are capable of transmitting it. This suspected carrier ‘buffer zone’ can be defined with the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation devices and a high resolution satellite image of where the immunization campaign is to be organized can then be downloaded off the internet from various online mapping services. Connecting to the internet is possible, anywhere in the world, with the aid of mobile satellite terminals. Details of the campaign, including the extent of the buffer zone around the reported cases to be focused on, can then be mapped using a Geographic Information System (GIS). The use of GPS, web mapping, GIS, and mobile satellite terminals are some of the space-related technologies that have found use in the logistics of emergency or critical operations all over the world.

This whole process can be accomplished with much ease following adequate planning. Hand-drawn maps can be fraught with various faults that do not befit an activity with this level of high priority to global aims.

John Snow Hand Drawn Map of Soho, London Cholera Outbreak in 1854 (Source: Wikipedia)

John Snow Hand Drawn Map of Soho, London Cholera Outbreak in 1854 (Source: Wikipedia)

An example of a better map designed using freely available satellite imagery is shown below. This map gives a more accurate relationship between areas. It also affords immunisation volunteers to be easily mobilized for deployment into an area by empowering them with better tools to navigate hitherto unknown territory.

Map obtained using Google Maps and enhanced to show routes (Source: Ana Gago Da Silva)

Map obtained using Google Maps and enhanced to show routes (Source: Ana Gago Da Silva)

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One Response to “Polio Eradication and Space Technologies”

  1. Olamide Oke-Adeyinka said

    Read the write up. This is really helpful in the efforts towards polio eradication especilly in Nigeria.

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