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Saturday May 04 2019

Pakistan demands Facebook remove polio vaccine misinformation


ISLAMABAD: 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.

Polio vaccination campaigns have faced stubborn resistance for years in Pakistan.

In recent months, Pakistani social media 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.

"The parental refusals due to propaganda on Facebook regarding the vaccine is emerging as the major obstacle in achieving complete eradication of the virus," Babar Atta, who is helping oversee the country's vaccination drive, 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 northwest Pakistan 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 country's anti-polio programme.

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.