Home » Blog » TED2006 » Larry’s Brilliant Wish

Larry’s Brilliant Wish

Dr. Larry Brilliant is having a very good week. Tuesday evening, he was named the head of Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm. And this evening, he received the 2006 TED Prize for his work on disease eradication.

Then again, Brilliant says that he’s the luckiest man in the world. That’s because he got to see the last case of killer smallpox in the world, and believes that he may well see the last case of polio.

His path into medicine – and now philanthropy – is an unusual one. Like many children of the sixties, he rode a bus from San Francisco to London to Turkey, and eventually over the Khyber Pass to India. (We suspect boats were involved somewhere. Or perhaps just a lot of drugs.) In India, he and his wife lived in a Himalayan monestary and worked with a guru, who later told Brilliant to join the UN and work on the elimination of smallpox, which Brilliant did in his work with the WHO.

The key to eliminating smallpox, Brilliant believes, is early detection and early response. This is what’s made it possible to destroy the most deadly disease in history – a disease that’s killed 500 million people, 2 million a year as recently as thirty years ago.

In 1967, it seemed outrageously optimistic to predict that smallpox could be eliminated. By 1974, it was endemic in only five countries, including India, where there were over a hundred thousand cases. Massive vaccination wouldn’t work – tens of millions of new babies would have to be vaccinated each year. Instead, you need to build a “circule of immunity” around existing cases.

To do this, Brilliant and thousands of others made over a billion housecalls to households in India, showing people pictures of smallpox and trying to isolate the existing cases. The method works, and the disease was gone by 1980. Now polio is disappearing in a similar pattern – it’s endemic in only four countries, and might be eliminated soon.

Unfortunately, other diseases haven’t been responsive to this method. Smallpox was eliminated, but yaws, malaria and yellow fever were not.

The nightmare diseases of the future are not the childhood killers that are almost eliminated – they’re new pandemics, like Avian Flu or SARS. Should avian flu start transmitting from person to person to person, Brilliant predicts that people will not get on airplanes, and commerce as we know it will cease for a sustained period, breaking just-in-time supply chains. While he doesn’t think Avian Flu will neccesarily become a pandemic, he reports that 90% of epidemiologists believe a major pandemic will occur in the next two generations and will make a billion or more people sick.

How do we stop pandemics? Like smallpox: early detection and early response. We won’t have a vaccine for avian flu for at least three years, so we need to isolate cases quickly. Our weapon in this is information – systems like GPHIN – the Global Public Health Information Network.

GPHIN scans news sites from around the world, digesting content in seven languages, to detect illnesses that might be pandemics. It helped identify SARS, and helped it from becoming a pandemic, and is serving as a global early warning system for Avian Flu.

With his TED wish, Brilliant wants to build INSTEDD – the International System for Total Early Disease Detection. (That TED is in the word is no coincidence, given the role of the prize in shaping the intervention.) He wants to build this around GPHIN, expanding the number of sites analyzed and expanding from 7 languages to 70, and add satellite data to help confirm media reports.

The goal? A system that can help the whole world stay healthy by helping us identify and treat those who are sick early and rapidly.

9 thoughts on “Larry’s Brilliant Wish”

  1. Pingback: mymarkup.net

  2. I want to offer my efforts to your global initiative GPHIN. On my website – http://www.bio-balance.com, I’ve placed Health Alert and Bird Flu links as a community service. I would also like to link up with GPHIN and offer free links from any of my webpages.

    -All the Best

    Richard Lanzara, MPH, PH.D.
    President and Principle Scientific Officer
    Bio Balance, Inc.
    Website: http://www.bio-balance.com
    E-mail: rlanzara@bio-balance.com
    Phone: 212-769-3877

  3. I would like to speak with Larry Brilliant and talk to him about my husband’s discoveries. He may know of Dr. Patrick Flanagan from the 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s or 90’s where he has received recognition for various inventions in each decade.
    Berry Brilliant is an old friend of mine and I recently read an article about Larry in an Febuary SF Chronicle talking about his new position. I have something very profound to discuss with him. I hope someone will email me. Thank you, Stephanie

  4. Stephanie,

    I suggest you contact Larry Brilliant at Google, it’s unlikely he will see this post. If you need help locating an email for him, contact me at cyncyn@gmail.com and I will assist. I wish you luck in your endevour, the world needs profound discussions with those in a position to act on them.


  5. Hey Ethan,do you have Larry Brilliant’s email? I want to help his vision and raise money for him.


  6. Global warming may be real but when “simple” math disproves all the hesteria about oceans rising and “attacking coastal communities” (per Dr. Brilliant in Forbes and of course others) then it casts doubt on all the other outlandish claims.

    Simple math says the there no truth about a drastic increase in water levels from melting ice. Let’s take a look:

    “Earth’s north pole is covered by floating pack ice (sea ice) over the Arctic Ocean, the Arctic ice pack. Portions of the ice that don’t melt seasonally can get very thick, up to 3–4 meters thick over large areas, with ridges up to 20 meters thick. One-year ice is usually about a meter thick. The area covered by sea ice ranges between 9 and 12 million km².” Since half the ice is under water and is already IN the water, if it all melted it would add about to 20 million km cubed of water (4 meters x 10 million x 1/2) to the volume of ocean water.

    “The land mass of the Earth’s South Pole, in Antarctica, is covered by the Antarctic ice sheet. It covers an area of almost 14 million km² and contains 30 million km³ of ice.” KEK says – If it all melts that IS 30 million km cubed of ice = melted water

    “Greenland, officially Kalaallit Nunaat, is the largest island in the world, lying mainly within the Arctic Circle off northeast Canada. It is a self-governing overseas division of Denmark. The capital is Nuuk (formerly Godthab). More than four fifths of Greenland lies buried under an ice cap that has an average thickness of 2.8 kilometers. The area of Greenland is about 840,000 square miles (2,175,000 square kilometers). It is about 1,650 miles (2,650 kilometers) long, with a maximum width of some 650 miles (1,050 kilometers). Its people, however, live only on the rocky coastal fringe, chiefly in the southwest.” From “Thickness of the Greenland Ice Cap” in The Physics Factbook™
    Edited by Glenn Elert — Written by his students

    So 4/5 x 2.175 million km sq. x 2.8 km of ice thickness = 4.9 million km cubed of ice = melted water

    Then it follows that the total amount of ice in the Artic plus Antarctica plus Greenland is 20 + 30 + 4.9 = 55 million km cubed

    All five oceans take up an area of 369 million km sq.(see Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

    The math is 55 million km cubed divided by 369 million km sq. = 0.15 meters of water height added to the oceans of the world if it ALL melts. This is: 3.28 feet/meter x 12 inch/ft x .15meters = 5.8 inches

    5.8 inches is rather insignificant.

    If this math is correct, then it discredits all the “super scientists” involved with this hoax.

    What say you?

    Ken Kodger Avon Lake, OH

    Tom, I thick all the above is correct math and .Good job but your guests already have their minds made up. The answer to Gore’s rubbish is proof that if there is global warming it is not man-made.

  7. The eradication of diseases needs to come from people who cares for others. I believe that Dr. Patrick Flanagan’s revolutionary products like Crystal Energy and Mega H have dramatically changed people’s lives here in Asia. Moreover, Stephanie Sutton-Flanagan has been working very hard to spread the seeds of knowledge and discoveries of Dr. Flanagan to everyone around the World, but it has not been easy.

    I care for others, who tend to ignore the true fact that their health is never the same when they are young. Diseases are moving to closer to the younger generation, and something needs to be done, quickly! We could all spread the word around to many others, and the website which I have included may do just that. Forward this around for the sake of humanity.

    Keep up the great work, Dr. Patrick and Stephanie Flanagan. May God bless you both.

    Live long … Jason

  8. Malaria continues to be a problem in spite of the large efforts to distribute impregnated bed nets and medications containing artemether or a derivative.. It is important to not exclude the animal population of an endemic area when diagnosing this disease. We all must become aware of this.

  9. First of all, welcome and participate in this concern. Years ago he designed and registered EOTRAC, a mechanism to operate large electricity generators taking advantage of the wind strength. I have never enjoyed the resources to develop this project, which is why I put it to his analysis, prepared to patent it in any country if feasible (Intuos yes, given the materials used at present).

    Brief description:

    The EOTRAC replaces a number of wind mills by one that concentrates all the power generated by them (maximum power at one point). So many modules as may be required to join a central database, keeping the balance of each side.

    The modules are composed of six large pallets, coupled with a horizontal axis (connected to a large generator through a transmission components with the principle of “top”), rotating with the wind on a base with special wheels. Such moves based on circular rails, allowing the correct orientation of the device as the wind direction.

    The exterior of each module is coated with a tube aerodynamic side and tail orientation. The wind that intercepts the device is the sum of horizontal wind (to 12 meters high) plus the wind surface at ground level, which converges with the former through the tube-ramp. This increases the wind power curve. It also has a simple valve that controls the entrance to the winds, maintaining a steady speed.

    Deputy files-sketch drawings to facilitate the explanation. I count on more data (drawings, calculations) provide them with no obligation if they so wish.

    I remain at your disposal.

    Clemente Rebic’
    Calle Estomba 516 – 4to piso “A”
    Bahía Blanca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Comments are closed.