Christian Long

Larry Brilliant: Wants to Stop Pandemics

In TED Talks on May 9, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Extra credit reflection by KATIE R.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Larry Brilliant: Wants to Stop Pandemics

Dr. Larry Brilliant gives an informative discussion on the impact of technology on pandemic diseases throughout the world. His motto, which he suggest we memorize, is “Early detection, early response”. He insists that this is the only way that we can get a handle on minimizing the spread of any disease that can impact society as a whole. He has seen the disappearance of some of the world’s worst diseases eradicated and replaced by new threats. His journey through history and new solution on the methodology for dealing with these types of situation poses some interesting thoughts.

While it may be true that early detection and early response are key elements I would add persistence to the mix. When Dr. Brilliant talks about how in an effort to deal with the small pox epidemic in India which in his talk was the last small pox stronghold. He mentions that over 150,000 volunteers came together in order to record the number of actual small pox cases in the country. In the case of polio, the amount of people doing the ground fieldwork was quoted at four million. Not only were these volunteers part of the initial surveillance, but they did follow up surveys, going door to door asking health question about the individuals living in the homes. To me that is a true measure of persistence. I agree that without the measures taken by the survey team’s small pox and polio may not have been contained and eliminated, but, the dedication of the volunteers made it possible for the information to be gathered and steps taken to prevent the continued spread.

In Dr. Brilliant’s opinion, vaccinations are not the only solution to pandemic diseases. That may be because the new diseases that are currently attacking our society don’t have a known vaccine. Such would be the case with the swine flu panic last year. At the time the outbreak was being predicted, scientists were still searching for the “right” strain of the flu to make a vaccine available. When it became available, it was in limited supply and the news was full of images of people waiting at sites where the vaccine could be found. It takes time for technology to catch up and find the right solution. That is why, as Dr. Brilliant says, we need to work together and find the source of the disease, isolate the cases and contain. ” Early detection, early response. ”

Dr. Brilliant addresses the impact of pandemic outbreaks on society as a whole. We are now a global village. While in the past it was easier to isolate and contain disease, modern technology has made it more difficult. It is now easy to travel within a country or internationally. This makes a disease able to spread worldwide in record time. And, with the global village concept, there is attached the global economy. Pandemic outbreaks also wreak havoc by creating a cycle that can lead to economic depression worldwide. There are measures in place to oversee and monitor the outbreaks of disease, such as the W.H.O., but as a governmental organization, Dr. Brilliant suggests that the detection and response time are too slow as it involves too much bureaucratic red tape. He is much more impressed with the work of independent agencies, like G.F.I.N., that can operate much more swiftly without government interference. He credits agencies like this with the quick response in dealing with the SARS outbreak in China.” Early detection, early response.”

Finally, Dr. Brilliant has his dream solution. Building on the G.F.I.N. model and capitalizing on technology, he wants a totally government free independent web corridor network , INSTED The project would bring people together, much like the small pox and polio volunteers, but in the new medium. These new age volunteers could look for any suspicious health related patterns and immediately upload the information on the corridor. This information would be broadcast in very language in the world that can be added and give people fast insight into diseases that could be potentially pandemic. With today’s worldwide web, this may be very possible since the majority of people could have access; maybe not everyone has access to the web, but hopefully, people interested and monitoring will be able to get the information out to the masses. INSTED of sitting back and waiting for information to filter down through normal channels, with Dr. Brilliant’s concept, we can be proactive and become involved in securing our own future free from major pandemics. It seems to me that any idea that deals with society’s overall wellbeing is worth promoting. it would be wonderful if we are as lucky as Dr. Brilliant and see some of our diseases being eradicated.

“Early detection, early response.”


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