How social media is hindering Rotary’s polio campaign

How social media is hindering Rotary’s polio campaign

Since 1988, we’ve seen a worldwide reduction in polio cases of 99.9%. For more than two years, we’ve seen wild polio cases in only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A former Government minister has warned there is a risk of failure to rid the world of polio through political unrest in the remaining endemic countries.

Alistair Burt, who until March this year was a Minister of State at the Department for International Development, praised the role of Rotary at a Parliamentary debate on universal health coverage.

Rotary began its mission in 1988 to wipe out the disease, and volunteers are campaigning alongside health workers for total eradication in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria – the last three outposts where polio is prevalent.

However, in these last three countries, vaccinators face the risk of death by gunmen as fake claims spread the region. One health worker and two police guards were killed in Pakistan in April.

Days earlier, according to The Telegraph, more than 25,000 children were admitted to hospital in north-west Pakistan, as rumours went viral on Twitter that the polio vaccine had led to fainting and vomiting.

This was followed by a scaremongering video of children, posted on social media, who were told to faint as if they had been poisoned by the vaccine.

There remains a risk of failure. We must thank the development and health workers who are responsible for vaccination.”

Speaking at the debate, Alistair Burt warned that suspicion and ill-founded rumours were damaging efforts to wipe out the disease completely.

He said: “Polio, as we know, has decreased by over 99% since 1988, but transmission has never stopped in three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

“There remains a risk of failure. We must thank the development and health workers who are responsible for vaccination.

“In particular, we recognise that in some countries they face genuine physical threats and loss of life.

“In other countries, vaccination faces a threat from anti-vaccination campaigns, which are run for all sorts of reasons.

“It is essential that anti-science is combated by evidence of science and evidence of success.

“As far as I am aware, vaccination is about Edward Jenner and smallpox in the United Kingdom, and about Louis Pasteur and others worldwide.

“It is not about a big pharmaceutical company trying to sell vaccines. It is a proven method of saving millions of lives.”

Rotary has been at the heart of the polio eradication campaign through its End Polio Now initiative.

And the Cambridgeshire MP, who is an honorary member of Sandy Rotary, and whose father has been part of Bedford and Bury Rotary clubs, praised the organisation for the great it has taken over the years.

He said: “My father and I recognise that Rotary has helped vaccinate 2.5 billion people in 122 different countries and given more than £1.8 billion over 30 years.

“We thank those in Rotary up and down the country and abroad for their efforts and voluntary work.”

The Westminster session was preparing the way for a debate at the General Assembly of the United Nations in September about universal health coverage, and seeking further funding towards the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

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