Facebook blocks 31 pages over propaganda against polio vaccine on demand of Pakistan Government

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A Pakistani health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a polio vaccination campaign at a railway station in Karachi on September 24, 2018. Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world where polio remains endemic. / AFP / RIZWAN TABASSUM

After a vicious campaign was launched on social media against the polio vaccine, Facebook blocked as many as 31 accounts/pages involved in propaganda against vaccination in Pakistan on the request of the government’s polio programme.

On Monday, rumors were circulated on social media that a one-year-old girl had died in Swabi due to the polio vaccine.

“Print and electronic media showed responsibility and decided to wait till getting the autopsy report of the deceased. However, an organised campaign was launched on the social media that the girl had died because of the vaccine and people should not vaccinate their children,” the Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Babar Bin Atta said while talking to Dawn.

“As per the autopsy report, the girl died due to suffocation as a peanut got stuck in her throat. Just after getting the report we contacted Facebook and officially launched a campaign against those accounts which were involved in propaganda against the vaccine,” he said.

Move comes after an infant’s death in Swabi led to rumours on social media that it was caused by vaccine

Mr Atta said that within one hour Facebook blocked all those accounts/pages so that they would not continue their malicious campaign against the polio vaccine.

“We are thankful to Facebook for cooperating with us. We have also taken the polio team members into confidence that they should share the pro-polio vaccine posts with those who hesitate to vaccinate their children due to the campaign,” he said.

During the current year 58 polio cases have been confirmed in the country as compared to 12 in 2018 and only eight in 2017. This year as many as 44 polio cases have been reported from Khyber Pakhtun­khwa and its tribal districts, five each from Punjab and Sindh, and four cases from Balochistan.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by polio virus mainly affecting children under the age of five. It invades nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease. Each time a child under the age of five is vaccinated, their protection against the virus is increased. Repeated immunisation has protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become polio free.

There are only two countries in the world, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where polio cases are being reported. Pakistan remains under a polio-linked travel restriction imposed by the World Health Organisation due to which, since 2014, every Pakistani travelling aboard has to carry a polio vaccination certificate.

Polio immunisation campaigns have suffered due to a propaganda campaign on social media that the vaccine is becoming reason for a number of diseases and it should not be administered to children.

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