This past Saturday, I decided to take a break from studying to visit the Carter Center. I was really excited to see what the Carter Center had for me to learn and absorb but I was most excited about the Countdown to Zero: Defeating Disease exhibition. The exhibit is fairly new to Atlanta and focuses on diseases that plagued many parts of the world and tracked their journey to eradication.
There were walls full of information about guinea worm disease, malaria, small pox, polio, trachoma and a few other diseases that are currently in the process of being eliminated or eradicated. Each disease had pictures and information about prevention, methods of transmission and the manifestations of the diseases on an individual and the community. According to the Countdown to Zero: Defeating Disease brochure, guinea worm disease could become the second human disease to ever be eradicated, with smallpox being the first.
What’s so hard about eradicating a disease? Don’t you just wash your hands and use clean water? Well obviously, it’s a little more complicated than that. Scientists have been working for decades just to control or eliminate some of these diseases. Disease eradication is one of the biggest challenges to public health and there are a number of reasons why some disease cannot be eradicated.
Measles is one of the most contagious, deadly disease that we still see today and is also eradicable. Even though, vaccines are reliable and common, there has been a rise in the number of cases in recent years. Increased disapproval of vaccines and lack of economic and governmental support has led to less children receiving the measles vaccine, leading to setbacks to the eradication of measles.
One tricky part about disease eradication is that not all diseases can able to be completely wiped out of existence. For example, Influenza is a common disease that is often brought to the public’s attention around fall and spring every year. It is also a disease that does not fit the criteria for eradication. Why? There are many different strains of the disease that mutates frequently so a vaccine that worked last year may not work the next year. Trachoma, a bacterial disease that spread through eye-seeking flies, is also not eradicable but the blindness that is caused by the disease can be treated with a surgery.
A part of the exhibit that really caught my eye was an educational flipbook from South Sudan that was made from cloth instead of paper. The book didn’t have any words on it and was bound more like a scroll than an actual flipbook. The one picture that I could see illustrated the proper filtering technique that is now utilized in many villages in Africa to filter water, preventing the transmission of pathogens like the guinea worm. Villagers place a cloth with a semi-permeable section in the middle on top of a bucket and pour water over it to make the water drinkable. Cloth was used instead of paper or cardboard books because paper and cardboard are not able to withstand the conditions of the fields in the most commonly affected areas.
The Carter Center had other exhibits that focus on the many great things that Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, have contributed to public health, global affairs and policy during his presidency and years after. I highly recommended checking it out, especially viewing the Countdown to Zero: Defeating Disease exhibit.
Tyra Skinner is a traditional BSN student at Emory’s School of Nursing. She serves as a mentor and team leader for the Health Career Academy and is also a part of the BUNDLE program.