Facebook to help Pakistan fight drive against polio efforts

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The Facebook has assured Pakistan that it will play its role to counter propaganda by anti-vaxxers which had hampered polio programme last year and became a reason for increase in the number of polio cases which rose up to 136.

A delegation of Facebook, led by Regional Director for Southeast Asia and Emerging Countries Rafael Frankel, held meetings with officials concerned and visited the National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) on Polio.

Last year, outbreak of measles was observed in the United States and after that it was noted that a number of people don’t vaccinate their children because of videos on social media. Because of it US health departments decided to campaign against anti-vaxxers. It also created an opportunity for Pakistan as well because a number of videos are shared on social media claiming that vaccines were Haram or they were being used as a conspiracy against Muslims.

Talking to Dawn, NEOC Coord­i­nator Dr Rana Safdar said that Facebook wanted to play a role in improving public health in the country.

“In 2018 we faced an issue that a number of posts of anti-vaxxers were shared in Pakistan triggering the masses to refuse vaccination of their children and that led to rise in number of polio cases last year,” he said.

Dr Safdar said that the representatives of the Facebook held out an assurance that they would play their role to counter campaign against polio vaccination.

“It has been agreed that a number of medical research papers wou­­ld be spread to convince Face­book users that vaccination is in the best interest of children,” he said.

According to an official statement issued by the Ministry of National Health Services, during a meeting with the delegation, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza highlighted the importance of communicating correct health information online and stressed the need to counter harmful content on social media.

“The generous support to be provided by Facebook is instrumental in reaching out to parents and caregivers with accurate health information,” Dr Mirza said.

“We welcome this opportunity to visit Pakistan and admire the work that has been done by the polio programme. We stand behind the national and global efforts to create a polio-free world and will continue to support these efforts,” the statement quoted Facebook Regional Director for Southeast Asia and Emerging Countries Rafael Frankel as saying.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2020