Back in August, I had the chance to photograph inside the CDC in Atlanta. The assignment, for Newsweek Europe, was to help illustrate a story about the efforts to completely eradicate polio. I was to take a portrait of Dr. Greg Armstrong (above), CDC incident manager, and photograph the Polio and Picornavirus Laboratory and the Emergency Operations Center. The whole thing was a bit stressful. It’s not everyday that I get to work in one of the most secure places on Earth, not to mention that I was only going to have a few minutes with Dr. Armstrong.
Dr. Armstrong was great to work with, and I was very thankful for the time he gave me. After all, he does have more pressing things at hand than sitting for a portrait … like trying to eradicate a deadly virus. I photographed him first, after making my way through the airport-like security at the CDC’s front desk. Then it was off to the polio lab, where scientists, among other things, test stool samples (exciting!) from certain parts of the world for the presence of polio. And lastly, I photographed inside the Emergency Operations Center, which is “CDC’s command center for monitoring and coordinating CDC’s emergency response activities to public health threats in the United States and abroad,” according to the CDC’s website.
I have to say, walking through the CDC, you’d never know that you were in close proximity to some of the deadliest diseases in the world (they have the last remaining stockpile of smallpox, for example). I had visions of people walking around in hazmat suits and myself having to be sprayed down. In reality, it was like walking through a corporate campus. Pleasant people in normal clothing walked around greeting each other and handling their business. Oh yeah, and everyone has a PhD. I wanted to take photos of the buildings, but of course, that was strictly prohibited. I was only allowed to photograph in the pre-arranged areas.
The Newsweek story, published this week and written by Karen Bartlett, outlines the importance and difficulty of eradicating the remaining 1% of polio in the world, and how that fight has helped with Ebola efforts. Warring factions and politics in some of the more dangerous places on Earth make it extremely difficult for health workers to deliver the much needed polio vaccines. About $8.5 billion (thanks to folks like Bill Gates) has been spent on the polio eradication effort, and another $4.5 billion is needed to finish the job. Critics say that the virus can never be wiped out and the efforts to do so are a colossal waste of funds that could be better spent. But don’t tell that to Dr. Armstrong.