Facebook has blocked 31 pages and accounts in Pakistan for allegedly spreading propaganda against the polio vaccine, Dawn reported on Wednesday. Facebook’s action was based on a request by officials of the Pakistan government’s polio programme. Pakistan remains one of the few countries in the world where polio has not yet been eradicated.

On Monday, a rumour spread on social media that a one-year-old girl had died in Swabi province due to the polio vaccine.

“Print and electronic media showed responsibility and decided to wait till getting the autopsy report of the deceased,” the Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Babar Bin Atta said. “However, an organised campaign was launched on social media that the girl had died because of the vaccine and people should not vaccinate their children.”

He said that contrary to rumours, the girl had died of suffocation after a peanut got stuck in her throat. “Just after getting the report, we contacted Facebook and officially launched a campaign against those accounts which were involved in propaganda against the vaccine,” Atta added.

The focal person on polio said that Facebook blocked the 31 accounts and pages within an hour of being contacted. “We are thankful to Facebook for cooperating with us,” Atta said. “We have also taken the polio team members into confidence that they should share pro-polio vaccine posts with those who hesitate to vaccinate their children due to the campaign.”

As many as 58 cases of polio have been recorded in Pakistan this year, compared to 12 in 2018 and eight in 2017. As many as 44 out of the 58 cases have been reported from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the Swabi district lies.

In May, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province sealed and deregistered seven private schools for allegedly spreading rumours about the anti-polio campaign in the country. The development followed the burning of a basic health unit in Mashokhel village on April 22 after word spread that children were being hospitalised because they were administered with the anti-polio dose.

In April, the Pakistan government suspended the anti-polio campaign and post-campaign evaluation “for an indefinite period” following the rising number of attacks on polio workers across the country.

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