Gilbert teen addresses global health experts - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Gilbert teen addresses global health experts

October 28th, 2021 development
Gilbert teen addresses global health experts

By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

Arizona College Prep senior Sohani Sandhu has a plan to end the COVID-19 pandemic: learn the lessons from one of her least favorite subjects – history.

The Gilbert resident over summer presented her plan as part of the Global Health Leaders Conference at Johns Hopkins University, one of the top medical schools in the world. Her topic was what lessons learned from the smallpox pandemic can be applied to ending the COVID threat.

“This was one off the deadliest pandemics that ever happened, but it was still stopped,” Sohani said. “It took a long time, but it was still stopped because people came together and stopped it.”

The Centers for Disease Control says there is evidence smallpox existed as far back as when Egypt was making mummies some 3,000 years ago, killing three of every 10 people who got the disease.

A vaccine was developed in 1796 but it wasn’t until 1959 that the World Health Organization began a plan to eradicate smallpox.

With mass vaccinations across the world, they succeeded. A declaration went out in May 1980 that the disease was no more. It did, however, kill between 300 and 500 million people in the 20th century alone.

Sohani said the lesson from that pandemic is that vaccines work. The W.H.O. made it a priority to vaccinate everyone who came into contact with an infected person.

Doing the same for COVID-19 will not be as easy. First, when you got smallpox you knew it because the symptoms were obvious, Sohani said.

That’s not the case for COVID and many people who are asymptomatic are unknowingly spreading the virus.

“The huge reason smallpox was eradicated was the vaccine,” Sohani said.

If COVID is to join smallpox on the list of eradicated diseases, Sohani said everyone must get vaccinated.

Sohani found out about the Global Health Leaders Conference at her school and applied to participate. She said she wasn’t sure if she would be chosen because it was open to high school students around the world and there were only 300 spots.

Once she was chosen, she applied to be one of the few chosen to give a presentation. There were fewer than 50 presentations planned.

Getting to that point took finding something to love about something she hated.

Sohani said she was assigned a mandatory history project in the sixth grade.

“I hate history,” she said.

Her teacher suggested she focus on things she likes. At that point, it was medicine because her mother was a nurse. She also enjoyed science since she had started a biology class.

Her teacher suggested looking at past pandemics. And that’s when she first started researching small pox and ended up doing to her mandatory history project on the disease.

Her mother, Harwinder Sohani, said her daughter is always working.

“My son is in medical also,” she said. “But she’s the one interested in medical. I feel so proud.”

Part of what keeps her busy is Sohani and some of her friends at school are about to launch their own medical device.

As part of a 9th grade project, they invented the hydro-hat, which she calls a heat stroke prevention device.

It caught the eye of Arizona State University and the Healthy Urban Environment program, which Sohani said offered them a $50,000 grant to make it. They also received a $2,500 grant from Intel for the device.

She said they have a patent pending and have formed their own company. They are currently testing a prototype now.

That background led her to create a research club at Arizona College Prep.

“If you ask anyone at my school, ‘what does Sohani do?’ they’re like, ‘science.’ That’s pretty much it.”