Pakistan demands Facebook remove polio vaccine misinformation

Updated May 03, 2019

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In this March 29, 2018 file photo, the logo for social media giant Facebook, appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square. — AP/File
In this March 29, 2018 file photo, the logo for social media giant Facebook, appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square. — AP/File

Pakistan urged Facebook to remove harmful polio-related content from the social networking site on Friday, saying it was jeopardising eradication initiatives and putting the lives of vaccinators at risk.

In recent months social media in the country has been inundated with fake news reports and videos — garnering thousands of views and shares in the last week alone — claiming numerous children have been killed by the polio vaccine.

Thousands of parents have refused to allow their children to be inoculated.

See: Polio vaccine – what you need to know

“The parental refusals due to propaganda on Facebook regarding the vaccine is emerging as the major obstacle in achieving complete eradication of the virus,” Prime Minister's Focal Person on Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta said in a statement.

Atta has requested “Facebook's management to block and/or manage the dissemination of such anti-vaccination propaganda from their platforms operating from within Pakistan”.

At least three people were killed in the last country-wide anti-polio campaign in April.

The violence coincided with an outbreak of hysteria in cities across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after rumours of children suffering from adverse reactions to a polio vaccine sparked panic, with tens of thousands rushed to hospitals.

Last week, around 10,000 vaccination refusals were reported per day in Islamabad, compared to 200 to 300 during the previous campaign, according to figures from the national anti-polio programme.

Nearly 100 people have been killed in assaults targeting vaccination teams since 2012.

Despite the opposition, campaigners have reported progress with tens of millions of children vaccinated across the country along with a 96 per cent drop in reported polio cases since 2014.

In addition to Pakistan, polio is endemic in two other countries globally — Afghanistan and Nigeria — although a relatively rare strain was also detected in Papua New Guinea last year.