TED Talk By Larry Brilliant On Stopping Pandemics

Larry Brilliant Works to Stop Pandemics

Francisca Cariqueo vacunando contra la Viruela [Photo by Paul Lowry] (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Larry Brilliant joined the UN smallpox vaccination effort back in the 1970s, and upon returning to the US he founded a charity organization and has been working on building a global-early warning system to stop pandemics and has had extensive experience in social entrepreneurship. His background in the smallpox initiative taught him about epidemiology and public health in developing countries, as well as crisis management.

Brilliant received a $100,000 TED Prize to further this idea, and four months later Google hired him to head its charitable arm, Google.org. In his role at Google, Brilliant was put in charge of climate crisis, global public health, and global poverty.

He said he would approach the challenge from a venture capital point of view, by mapping out the industry to see where the gaps are, funding a promising initiative to learn what works, and asking the key question “Will it scale?”

TED Talk By Larry Brilliant On Stopping Pandemics

Smallpox pathogenesis [Photo by AJC1] (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In a 2006 TED Talk on stopping pandemics, Dr. Larry Brilliant talks about how he helped to eradicate smallpox and about his vision for a new global system to identify and contain pandemics before they spread. Smallpox was the first disease to be eradicated successfully in history, and according to Dr. Brilliant, the key to eradicating it was early detection and early response.

He learned from this experience that a surveillance system was necessary, and in the case of smallpox in India his group offered a reward for those who reported cases. In the talk he also spoke about bird flu, and said that the key to preventing or mitigating pandemic bird flu was early detection and rapid response.

At the time there was not a vaccine or adequate supplies of an antiviral to combat bird flu, and it was rated by WHO at stage 3 on the pandemic alert scale, with just a small amount of human-to-human transmission reported.