April 21, 2019
Latest News
European Union

Rumors transmitted on WhatsApp hinder vaccinations in India

 A volunteer administers pulse polio drops to a child at a booth in Bhopal, India, Jan. 20, 2013. EPA/FILE/SANJEEV GUPTA

A volunteer administers pulse polio drops to a child at a booth in Bhopal, India, Jan. 20, 2013. EPA/FILE/SANJEEV GUPTA

New Delhi, Apr 15 (efe-epa).- Antivaccine misinformation, some of it from social media posts in the West, is spreading in India on WhatsApp, undermining efforts to root out measles and rubella in a country where tens of thousands of people are struck by the diseases each year, according to a Dow Jones Newswires report made available to EFE on Monday.

Dozens of schools in Mumbai have refused to allow health officials to carry out vaccinations in recent months, largely because of rumors shared on Facebook Inc.'s popular messaging app about the supposed dangers.

Several thousand children have missed out on treatment so far, according to officials at the United Nations Children's Fund. In New Delhi, a campaign to vaccinate students at schools has been halted by scared parents.

"It's rumors on WhatsApp" that are the chief culprit, said Sonia Sarkar, a Unicef official in New Delhi. "They've traveled faster than the vaccines."

A WhatsApp spokesman declined to comment about messages containing antivaccine information, but noted the company has undertaken educational campaigns in India and made technical tweaks to the app to try to dissuade users from forwarding false news.

WhatsApp has an estimated 300 million users in India, where a boom in internet usage in the past three years has brought hundreds of millions of people online for the first time.

The spread of misinformation about vaccination shows the challenge WhatsApp faces handling controversial content on the encrypted service, as Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg pivots globally to private messaging platforms.

More than 100,000 people die every year globally because of measles, most of them children, according to the World Health Organization.

About a third of those deaths are in India, Unicef says. Rubella causes tens of thousands of birth defects in India every year.

In the United States, measles used to be rare but has spread to 15 states this year as people have avoided inoculation because of religious views and misinformation about vaccine safety.

Many of the same reports that have misled Americans have been spread in India, typically through WhatsApp, analysts and health officials say.

The materials being forwarded among parents in India are often taken from groups in the US that post antivaccine videos on YouTube and Facebook.

"Don't use vaccinations. Save the lives of your children," says one forwarded WhatsApp message in two Indian languages that was provided by health officials and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The message claims vaccines are linked to autism and other disorders. "It is a moral duty to all of us" to spread the message, it reads. The message provides links to US-based YouTube channels with names like The Truth About Vaccines and iHealthTube.com.

Appended to the end of the message is the name and phone number of the sender, Kaleem Yusuf Abdullah, an environmentalist in the Indian city of Malegaon, about 170 miles from Mumbai.

"I have seen many videos on YouTube," he said in an interview. "After watching these videos I was in doubt" about the safety of vaccines. "I'm not convinced by doctors" who proclaim vaccines are safe, he said.

The scientific community continues to debunk claims about vaccines' supposed dangers, Dow Jones added in a report made available to EFE.

A study published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine found no link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism, confirming previous research.

Facebook last month said it would make it harder for vaccine skeptics to disseminate false claims, banning certain ads and changing its algorithms to downgrade offending pages.

Google's YouTube service and image site Pinterest also are addressing the issue.

It will be tougher to tamp down the spread of that information in India. WhatsApp has no public postings or advertisements to remove, and the company says it cannot view messages.

WhatsApp says it is committed to maintaining its users' privacy and has vowed not to let even authorities monitor messages.

Questionable content has been at the center of political debate in India this year. As national elections started Thursday, WhatsApp has been taking steps to inhibit the flow of false news.

The messaging service has made it harder to forward messages to large groups of people and this month launched a project that enables users to forward dubious messages for debunking. The Wall Street Journal has in recent days submitted to the service 10 messages - including some containing antivaccine misinformation that were shared by local health officials - but hasn't received responses about the messages' veracity.

The service says it tries to provide classifications within 24 hours and cannot respond to every submission.

India is vulnerable to potential damage from incorrect information about vaccines. The vaccination rate among children in the US is still above 92 percent, a level considered adequate for preventing widespread outbreaks. But in India, only about 88 percent of 1-year-olds had been vaccinated, meaning there is greater risk.

Worries about vaccines have existed for decades, but antivaccine messages have blossomed in the internet age, and fear-inducing material can spread quickly on social media.

In India, people who are new to the internet have, in effect, not yet been inoculated against false reports, said Praful Bharadwaj, who coordinates vaccination efforts for Unicef in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

"You don't have any control over WhatsApp," he said.

By Newley Purnell

dj/hh

News history
2 arrested on suspicion of being linked to journalist's death in N. Ireland

London, Apr 20 (efe-epa).- Two teenage men have been arrested on suspicion of having shot and killed a journalist who had been observing disturbances in the...

Ukrainian presidential campaign ends with heated debate in soccer stadium

Kiev, Apr 19 (efe-epa).- The president of Ukraine and his main rival in the upcoming national elections, a comedian who has been leading the pre-poll...

Bullfighters, soldiers, TV personalities, the new faces of Spanish politics

By Antonia Méndez Ardila

France launches architectural competition to replace Notre Dame spire

Paris, Apr 17 (efe-epa).-The French government has launched an international architectural competition aimed at rebuilding a spire on Paris’ iconic Notre...

Firefighters: Notre Dame fire out, French president pledges reconstruction

Paris, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- Paris firefighters tackling a blaze that partially destroyed the city's iconic Notre Dame Cathedral said on Tuesday the flames...

American Airlines to boost Boeing 737 MAX training

New York (USA), Apr 16 (efe-epa).- American Airlines Group Inc., after saying for months that its pilots didn't need additional ground-simulator experience...

Juncker: No Brexit extension beyond Oct. 31, UK must run in EU elections

Strasbourg (France), Apr 16 (efe-epa).- The European Union is not likely to extend the Brexit negotiation period beyond the current – and already delayed –...

Investors suffer a smoking relapse

New York (USA), Apr 16 (efe-epa).- Much like die-hard smokers, investors are finding it hard to stay away from cigarettes, according to a Dow Jones...

Notre-Dame heavily damaged by fire, but building appears to have been saved

Paris, Apr 15 (efe-epa).- The iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, the culmination of Gothic architecture, on Monday suffered a devastating fire that...

Rumors transmitted on WhatsApp hinder vaccinations in India

New Delhi, Apr 15 (efe-epa).- Antivaccine misinformation, some of it from social media posts in the West, is spreading in India on WhatsApp, undermining...

Pakistan rights watchdog urges UN to probe extrajudicial killings

Islamabad, Apr 15 (efe-epa).- The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Monday urged the United Nations to investigate the alleged extrajudicial killings...

India carrier Jet Airways cuts international flights

Mumbai (India), Apr 15 (efe-epa).- India's Jet Airways has drastically reduced operations as it looks for an investor to purchase a controlling stake in the...

Ecuador jilted Assange as it strengthened US ties

London, Apr 15 (efe-epa).- Ecuador's diplomatic protection of Julian Assange once allowed the small Andean nation's leftist government to antagonize its...

A new generation of politicians to battle it out in Spanish general elections

By Jesús Lozano

Bletchley Park, the laboratory of geniuses who read Hitler's mind

By Patricia Rodríguez

Anxiety seeps from Tetsuya Ishida's art in first European retrospective

Madrid, Apr 11 (efe-epa).- Tetsuya Ishida's career was cut short when he died at the tender age of 31 but his surreal existential canvasses offer a glimpse...

First ever photo of supermassive black hole revealed

Brussels, Apr 10 (efe-epa).- The first-ever image of a supermassive black hole loitering at the heart of the Milky Way was unveiled on Wednesday in Brussels...

Malmstrom says EU wants to avoid escalation of tensions with US

Tokyo, Apr 10 (efe-epa).- The European Union's trade commissioner said on Wednesday that the EU wants to avoid an escalation in trade tensions with the...

Egyptian aims to break record with 100 putty figures of celebrities

By Carles Grau Sivera

EU and China in 'breakthrough' trade talks on World Trade Organization reform

Brussels, Apr 9 (efe-epa).- The European Union and China have strengthened their relationship in “breakthrough” trade talks at a summit on Tuesday and...

May seeks support for Brexit delay ahead of EU Council summit

Berlin, Apr 9 (efe-epa).- The United Kingdom's prime minister on Tuesday visited the German chancellor in another last-minute Brexit trip.

Russia to go ahead with controversial Turkey missile sale

Moscow, Apr 8 (efe-epa).- Russia has Monday pledged to continue with the sale of military weapons to Turkey, including an anti-aircraft missile deal that...

Russia to release whales following Cousteau mediation

Moscow, Apr. 8 (efe-epa).- Nearly 100 animals that have been held in dreadful conditions in a "whale jail" in eastern Russia will be released into the wild,...

Japanese robot manufacturer: automation will not destroy jobs

Kocevje (Slovenia), Apr 8 (efe-epa).- A Japanese robot manufacturer that has launched its first factory in Europe said Monday that the use of artificial...

I agree Welcome to news4europe.eu. We use cookies to improve your online experience. Find out more.