As Pakistani healthcare workers fight to eradicate Polio in the country, mass hysteria has gripped many communities as fake news and malicious rumors are shared on social media, prompting calls for action by the tech giants.
“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 helps to oversee the Pakistans vaccination drive, said in a statement as cited by NDTV. Atta has requested that Facebook “block and/or manage the dissemination of such anti-vaccination propaganda.”
At least five people were killed during the last anti-polio vaccination drive in April. Vaccination worker Abdullah Jan, 35, was shot in the head repeatedly Saturday, the fifth gun attack against healthcare officials in the space of a month.
Mobs recently burned a village health center in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and pelted medical workers vehicles with stones. Mosques reportedly aired warnings that children were suffering cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea after being dosed with “poisonous” anti-polio drops. These claims were soon followed by rumors of child deaths as a result of being vaccinated.
In the Peshawar province, some 45,000 children were hospitalized complaining of nausea and dizziness, though health officials stated there were no confirmed deaths amid what they described as a “mass hysteria.”
“The mistrust in one segment of society, that refuses vaccinations due to religious beliefs, is translating into the rest of the country, which is something not seen in the past,” Atta added.
In Islamabad alone some 10,000 refusals per day were recorded, skyrocketing from just a few hundred in previous campaigns. Vaccination efforts have been plagued for years by intractable resistance from certain elements of society particularly following a CIA-organized fake vaccination drive to help track down former Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011.