Newsmen urged to focus on demystifying polio misconceptions

Peshawar   -   Newsmen are urged to focus on demystifying myths and misconceptions among the public regarding polio eradication initiatives, causing the prevalence of the crippling and sometimes fatal disease in Pakistan and Afghanistan despite being successfully wiped out globally. “Media has the power to mold public opinion through impactful reporting and shaping public opinion in favor of polio vaccination that can help in eradication of the virus from the region,” observed speakers at an orientation workshop arranged for sensitizing media persons on polio eradication.

Titled “Role of Media in Polio Eradication,” the workshop was organized by Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with the support of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The workshop was attended by Program Manager UNICEF Dr. Wisam Hazem, President Peshawar Press Club Arshad Aziz Malik, Ex-President PPC Muhammad Riaz, officials of UNICEF, WHO, and EOC, and senior journalists from different news organizations.

Speaking at the inaugural session, Program Manager UNICEF Dr. Wisam Hazem said media can play a key role in creating public opinion in favor of polio vaccination, countering negative propaganda against these vaccines, and removing the existing misconceptions and myths among the people. “Through use of modern communication platforms including social media, newsmen can play an effective role in removing misapprehensions among public as still thousands of direct refusals are found during vaccination campaigns,” observed Shadab Younas, Communication Officer UNICEF.

Shadab appealed to media men to extend their support in convincing people who are hesitant towards polio vaccination through effective human angle stories, developing documentaries, and bringing forth neutral and trusted voices to change the perception of the people. The crippling polio virus is still stalking our minors and can cause lifelong disabilities as 24 positive environmental samples are found from sanitation water in different cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, she apprised participants of the workshop. Out of the total of 24 samples, 12 are from the provincial metropolis, Peshawar, in the first five months of 2024, she added.

“The biggest challenge in polio prevention and annihilation drives is boycott by people who flatly refuse to cooperate on the basis of myths and misunderstandings they have in their minds, which can only be removed through awareness by media about the efficacy of the vaccine and the damages of infection on the life of children,” Shadab observed.

The objective of the workshop was sensitizing newsmen on how to accurately report polio eradication efforts, counter misinformation and negative propaganda, enabling them to understand the significance of polio eradication and their critical role in achieving it, she continued. In his technical presentation on polio eradication, Dr. Nabeel Liaqat, Provincial Disease Surveillance Officer WHO, focused on the origin of the polio virus, its epidemiology, different types of polio viruses and vaccines, as well as the significance of polio eradication through regular polio vaccination. Dr. Nabeel informed newsmen that ten cases have been reported in Pakistan and Afghanistan, five each in both countries, till May of 2024.

He said polio has been eradicated throughout the globe through the administration of the OPV vaccine which is also used in our country but still the results have not been achieved. He sought media support in building community trust and changing the perception of the people towards vaccine acceptability so that this virus may be wiped out from the last endemic zone.

Senior journalist and trainer, Safiullah Gul, guided the participants on how to develop effective stories for print and electronic media which may touch the feelings of their respective audience and lead to a change in positive behaviors towards public health. Referring to the support of media for the national cause of polio eradication, President Peshawar Press Club, Arshad Aziz Malik stressed the need for conducting capacity building workshops for journalists and added that the press club can extend technical support in this regard.

He said Peshawar Press Club has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with EOC for the dissemination of information regarding any initiative taken for polio eradication. Arshad thanked EOC and UNICEF for arranging such a useful workshop on a very important issue of public health and assured full cooperation and support from the media community and PPC in the fight for eradication of polio from this region.

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