Polio and fake news

Pakistan has fought the battle against polio for decades. Along the way, it has made significant progress, but the state has still repeatedly failed to stamp out the disease once and for all. Today, Pakistan is one of the only three remaining countries where the disease continues to be a problem. A number of explanations have been given for this polio, including terrorism, lack of law and order, a failing sewerage system and the porous border shared with Afghanistan. Recent events, however, show that the biggest hurdle in the path to a polio-free Pakistan is fake news and the panic it causes.

Earlier this week Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) was gripped by hysteria as reports emerged of children fainting and dying after being administered polio vaccinations. Once the allegedly sick children were taken to hospitals however, they were declared perfectly healthy by doctors, who attributed their symptoms to mass panic. It later emerged that the administration of the school where children initially began showing signs of being ill had been anti-vaccination for years. Later, video evidence emerged showing that the entire incident had been caused because of the circulation of fake news. In the footage, a man could be seen instructing children to faint and act as if they were ill because of receiving polio drops.

Although the man in the video has been arrested, the damage had already been done. Agitation caused by the mass panic resulted in a hospital being damaged by vandals. Numerous parents refused to have their children vaccinated and it is quite likely their opinions on polio drops will not change in the near future. A Bannu Assistant Sub-Inspector who was supposed to provide security to polio vaccinators was also gunned down on his way to duty.

The incident makes it clear that eradicating polio will be an uphill battle as long as the government does not formulate a proper strategy on tackling online fake news. It is hoped that all those found to be involved in this fraud are punished with the full force of the law. Those perpetuating lies about polio vaccines are enemies of Pakistan and Pakistani children. *

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