A Facebook delegation visited Islamabad on 14 January to re-affirm the social media company’s commitment to work with the Government of Pakistan to improve health integrity online.
Receiving the delegation, Dr. Zafar Mirza, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on health, highlighted the importance of communicating correct health information online and stressed “the need to counter harmful content on social media. As was seen in Peshawar in April, it is not just jeopardizing polio eradication efforts but also putting the lives of our children at risk. Moreover, we see the power of Facebook everyday through the blood donation initiative.”
Facebook and the Ministry of Health have been collaborating on targeted efforts to improve the reach of positive public health messages, dispelling rumours and fighting propaganda for the polio program and the Safe Blood Transfusion Program.
“The generous support provided by Facebook is instrumental in reaching out to parents and caregivers with accurate health information,” added Dr. Mirza.
The Facebook delegation, led by Rafael Frankel, Regional Director for Southeast Asia and Emerging Countries, met Dr. Zafar Mirza at the Federal Ministry of Health and visited the National Emergency Operations Centre for polio during the visit. Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, National Coordinator for polio, briefed the team on the country’s progress, remaining challenges and strategies being implemented to interrupt the polio virus transmission.
“Through close collaboration with the Facebook team, the polio program has developed an optimization strategy, received support with awareness and call to action messages during national campaigns and much more. We express our gratitude for this fruitful partnership to assist our engagement with parents in providing them with valuable health information,” said Dr. Safdar.
With the help of Facebook credits, Pakistan polio program has been able to disseminate localized content in targeted areas for greater reach of public health messages. Moreover, Facebook has been taking steps to better identify false news through the community and a third-party fact-checking organization. This improves health integrity online and assists the polio program in overcoming one of its main challenges.
“We welcome this opportunity to visit Pakistan and admire the work that has been done by the polio program. We stand behind the national and global efforts to create a polio-free world and will continue to support these efforts,” said Frankel.
Pakistan is one of the two polio endemic countries in the world along with its neighbour Afghanistan. The country has made steady and impressive progress since 1994 by managing to reduce the number of polio cases. However, in 2019 the programme has seen a significant spread of the virus due to various reasons, including negative information on social media. As of today, 136 polio cases across all provinces have been reported.
Note to Editors:
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five. It invades the 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 immunizations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become polio free.