ISLAMABAD: Although there has been improvement in the country when it comes to reducing the number of polio cases, social media poses a new challenge for the polio vaccination programme.

“Whenever the time comes to start a campaign against polio, a campaign is started on social media that results in increased resistance to vaccination,” National Coordinator for Polio Eradication Dr Rana Safdar told Dawn.

“We have contacted the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to address the issue, and expect that things will improve, but Whatsapp is still a huge challenge for us,” he added.

Dr Safdar said that print and electronic media had been sensitised over the last few years about reporting on polio vaccination campaigns.

PTA contacted regarding negative propaganda about the vaccine, polio eradication national coordinator says

Where they previously ran stories against campaigns and the polio vaccine, he said they were now seeing that print and electronic media were supporting polio vaccination campaigns.

“However, whenever a campaign is started against polio vaccination on social media, we face resistance,” he said.

In response to a question, Dr Safdar said that old videos, which have already been rebutted many times, were uploaded to social media.

“Recently in Nawabshah, a video was circulated in which a person claimed that children were being killed by the polio vaccine. However, during the investigation it was revealed that the video was dubbed or edited and a new voice message was included in it,” he said.

He said that while Facebook and Youtube were being contacted through the PTA and would block such messages due to sensitivity of the issue, they were “concerned about Whatsapp, because video messages are circulated from individual to individual or in groups, and it is difficult to stop the circulation of such videos”.

“We have been trying our best to stop the circulation of such videos,” he said.

Dr Safdar added that although Pakistan has raised the immunity level of children by vaccinating over 95pc of children, two recent incidents had increased problems: the killing of a mother and daughter in Quetta and the kidnapping of polio workers in Mohmad Agency.

“However, efforts are being made to address all issues and eradicate the virus for good,” he said.

According to a statement issued by the Ministry of National Health Services Pakistan, having received its lower ever case court of eight in 2017, is on the right trajectory to finish the job this year by maintaining intense pressure on the poliovirus.

This conclusion was reached by the National Polio Management Team when it met in Islamabad to review progress on the National Emergency Action Plan and find a strategic direction for the low transmission season in 2018/19.

The meeting had observed that the programme needed the support of all segments of society to convey the right messages to communities that still fall prey to negative propaganda about vaccinations, as five out of eight children paralysed by the poliovirus in 2017 came from families that refused vaccinations due to misconceptions.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2018

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