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August 10, 2019

Eradicating polio


August 10, 2019

This refers to the letter 'Polio awareness' (Aug 9) by Sahir Ishaq. I would like to take this as an opportunity to inform you that the Pakistan Polio Eradication initiative is currently engaged in designing and implementing innovative strategies to bridge the gap between the programme and local health needs to address the concerns of Pakistani parents. Resistance by parents lies at the heart of the concerns you have pointed out. A Perception Management Campaign is being launched shortly to not only counter misinformation about the programme, but address the most pressing concerns people have about the vaccine, the vaccine’s side effects, repeated campaigns, and the number of doses required. Instead of relying on our traditional advocacy methods, this campaign intends to bring the polio programme to the doorstep of the community in ways they are accustomed to, and in languages and actions they are familiar with. The programme is also set to launch a 24/7 call centre providing communities with uninterrupted access to credible and reliable information on polio eradication.

Our communication reviews show that the majority of anti-polio material is downloaded on phones from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and then further disseminated through WhatsApp. The rapid spread of this content is unsurprising given that up to 55.4 million cell phone users have access to internet and social media on their phone in Pakistan. As such, the programme launched a social media cell earlier this year to monitor, evaluate and disseminate information based on facts in real-time so as to counter circulating misinformation and rumours. In the long term, the programme is focused on penetrating WhatsApp groups at the grassroots level, in even the most far-flung locations, in order to disseminate accurate, reliable, and trustworthy information. These innovative strategies extend well beyond the programme’s traditional approach, and are anticipated to encourage increased knowledge of communities, build resilience to anti-polio rumours, and ultimately generate the demand seeking behaviour for vaccines that is key for polio eradication. We all agree that more has to be done to close the remaining gaps and turn the tide toward polio eradication in Pakistan. And, while challenges exist, the commitment to end polio in Pakistan remains very strong.

Babar Bin Atta

Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio

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