The World Health Organization (WHO) is collaborating with Facebook in fighting the spread of inaccurate information about vaccines. According to the WHO, the misinformation is said to be “a major threat to global health that could reverse decades of progress made in tackling preventable diseases.”
The health organization has announced that it has reached an agreement with both Facebook and Instagram. The WHO has also turned to Pinterest and other social media platforms.
The social media platforms would be directing users who are searching for vaccine data and information to the WHO’s research. This is to help keep people away from encountering inaccurate information regarding vaccination.
“We hope to reach all generations with the right information through the digital platforms because this is the way people now get the information they need. They will not go directly to the WHO website or read a newspaper. They will go to social media and see what people are saying about vaccines or other things,” said WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib.
The launch of these features come at the heel of the measles outbreak in the United States and other parts of the world.
In the U.S. alone, there have been over 1,200 cases of measles across 31 states this year. The figure is three times more than all of the cases reported last year. It’s also the highest number of cases since 1992.
The United States might also be losing its measles elimination status. According to the WHO, a country can lose its elimination status when there has been a continuous measles spread for one year.
“It certainly is incredibly frustrating and upsetting to the public health community that we may lose measles elimination status because we do have a safe and effective vaccine,” said director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Dr. Nancy Messonnier.
The U.S. is not the only one dealing with a measles outbreak. Over the past two years, there have been 300 % rise in measles cases globally. According to the WHO, countries like Brazil, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Madagascar, Ukraine, and Yemen have been severely affected by the outbreak.
In Europe, four countries have lost their measles elimination status. These are Albania, Czech Republic, Greece, and the United Kingdom. There have been there are approximately 90,000 cases of measles reported in the first half of 2019 in Europe. The number is 84,000 more than all the cases reported in 2018.
Measles is not the only disease that the WHO is trying to combat. According to the international health organization, it is estimated that more than three million people die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases. However, with vaccinations, it estimates that it can save at least two million lives annually from diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, hepatitis, measles, and others.
One of the major challenges that public health officials are facing is the anti-vaccination content that has been spreading online. These content are scaring parents, driving them away from getting their children vaccinated. Such actions then result in outbreaks of measles and other illnesses.
For several months now, Facebook, which also owns Instagram, and World Health Organization have been in talks to address the spread of vaccine misinformation.
The latest Facebook and Instagram updates have new pop-up features that would appear when users search for vaccine-related content. The new feature continues the efforts made by Facebook to lower the rankings of anti-vaccination content on a user’s feed.
Users in the United States will be redirected to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. To those who are living outside the U.S., they will be redirected to the website of the World Health Organization.
“Major digital organizations have a responsibility to their users — to ensure that they can access facts about vaccines and health. It would be great to see social and search platforms come together to leverage their combined reach,” said WHO’s director-general Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus.
In May 2019, Twitter has also introduced new search tools that could help users find credible resources about vaccines. When Twitter users search for keywords related to vaccines, they will be redirected to Twitter’s information partner. In the U.S., they have partnered with vaccines.gov.
Other companies have also made an effort to reduce the spread of bad and false information. Amazon has pulled anti-vaccination documentaries from its Prime video service. YouTube has also stopped running ads related to anti-vaccination.