Facebook ready to combat anti-vaxxers, says polio official

Updated March 11, 2019


Pakistan wants removal of videos though Facebook agrees to limit their reach. — Reuters/File
Pakistan wants removal of videos though Facebook agrees to limit their reach. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: While social networking website Facebook has agreed to limit the reach of anti-vaccine videos in Pakistan, the government wants deletion of the videos alleging that vaccines are a conspiracy against Muslims, prime minister’s focal person on polio Babar bin Atta told Dawn.

“We have taken Director General of World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations on board and also started efforts to involve other UN agencies to completely eradicate those videos from Facebook and YouTube,” he said.

Take a look: Pakistan pushes against polio vaccine misinformation

Answering a question, Mr Atta said it was observed after the last month outbreak of measles in the US that a number of people hadn’t vaccinated their children due to anti-vaccine videos on social media. The US health departments then decided to hold a campaign against anti-vaxxers.

Anti-vaxxer is a person opposed to vaccination, typically a parent who does not wish to vaccinate their children.

Pakistan wants removal of videos though social media giant agrees to limit their reach

The focal person on polio said: “This [development] created an opportunity for us as well, because a number of videos are shared on social media claiming that the vaccines are haram or they are used as a conspiracy against Muslims. We have decided to make all-out efforts to get those videos removed from social media.

“In a meeting with Pakistan Telecommunication Authority chairman retired Maj Gen Amir Azeem Bajwa last week, I sought PTA’s support to address the issue.”

He said it was principally decided at the meeting that as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility all mobile phone companies would send messages to their subscribers, informing why polio vaccine should be taken repeatedly and that it was the only way to protect children against the crippling disease.

He said it was decided that around 50 experts would be available at a toll-free number to respond to queries of people about polio vaccine. Moreover, people would be able to report missing children during every campaign and the respective polio programme would pay charges for those calls, he added.

Mr Atta said he also discussed with the PTA chairman the issue of social media campaign against vaccines.

“Facebook has informed the PTA that they cannot delete the videos, but have agreed to limit reach to these videos in Pakistan. However, we are insisting that those videos should be completely removed as, future of new generation is at stake due to those videos and messages,” he added.

Pakistan is one of the only three countries in the world where polio virus continues to paralyse children.

While the number of polio cases until a couple of decades back were in tens of thousands, relentless efforts to combat the virus over the last decade resulted in bringing the total number of cases in the country down to 20 in 2016 and eight in 2017.

However, last year one dozen children were tested positive for the deadly virus. During the first quarter of this year, four polio cases have already been reported.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2019