SciDev.Net: Dispel rumours to fix immunisation’s image problems

Below are extracts from a news article on SciDev.Net

Dispel rumours to fix immunisation’s image problems

Inga Vesper

Vaccine programmes can trigger fears of conspiracies and oppression. It’s time they got more collaborative…

“Each individual case of vaccine reluctance needs its own individual response — be it an explanatory website or a conjoined international diplomatic effort.”

“Some people think it’s sterilisation, or that we are infecting people with HIV/AIDs,” an MSF nurse working in the camp told SciDev.Net. “They say it’s the government’s way of controlling the refugees.”…

Fear of vaccination is one example of difficulties that arise when modern healthcare meets customs, beliefs, experiences and traditions — and it is not limited to the developing world, as the case of the MMR vaccine and fear of autism has shown…

In the 1990s, scientists recruited Zimbabweans for HIV/AIDS research without properly informing them of the risks, and many participants became infected with HIV/AIDS. Up until the 1980s, forced sexual reassignment surgery was conducted on homosexual black people in South Africa as part of medical experiments.

So, it is no wonder that modern vaccination programmes are regarded with suspicion in many parts of the world. But the health implications of such misperception are evident.

In Nigeria, a polio vaccine was widely boycotted in 2003 because local officials so mistrusted the government they believed rumours that the vaccine spread cancer.

What this suggests is that international health organisations and national health authorities are struggling to adapt their vaccine campaigns to address lingering concerns and meet cultural expectations. The problem of immunisation reluctance is widely known, yet few health authorities are making concerted efforts about it.

This is because the issue goes beyond merely providing better information. According to Unicef, people resist vaccines for many reasons. Culture and belief play a part, as does history. And sometimes it’s about how the vaccine is delivered. During polio vaccinations in India, for example, people from Uttar Pradesh did not want doctors from New Delhi to do the vaccinations for fear there would be no one to turn to in case of complications…

Modern media and communication technologies can play a part in dispelling myths about vaccines. Health providers need to team up with local opinion-shapers, such as religious and community leaders, education authorities and even celebrities, to dispel rumours and encourage people to get vaccinated.

One success story is the tetanus vaccine programme in Kenya. Shortly after its launch in 1994, the programme attracted misleading news reports stating that the vaccine’s ingredients were sterilising women. In this case, the World Health Organization teamed up with the Vatican to reassure local faith leaders and spread the message on the vaccine’s benefits.

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