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Why Anti-vaccine Beliefs And Ideas Spread So Fast On The Internet

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There’s been a recent increase globally in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. This can be seen in recent measles outbreaks in parts of the world where it was thought to have been eradicated.

This has prompted the World Health Organisation to list “vaccine hesitancy” (the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines) as one of 10 global health threats in 2019.

While there are many complex reasons why people choose not to vaccinate, changes in the way that information is accessed may provide one explanation for the rise in vaccine hesitancy.

We are involved in projects at the South African Research Chair in Science Communication at Stellenbosch University which explores vaccine communication. In a world where people are increasingly encountering science information online, particularly on social media, it’s important to understand why people are vulnerable to anti-vaccination messages and why this kind of information spreads so easily.

Effective communication strategies will be crucial if scientists want to counter the worrying trend of increases in vaccine hesitancy.

New media change the way people process science

In recently completed research, author Francois shed some light on how the anti-vaccination movement uses social media to amplify doubt and fuel hesitancy. The research found that “anti-vaxxers” select and share scientific information from open access journal articles on social media to escalate uncertainty in the broader population.

Anybody, including activists with specific agendas, can produce and share information online. This is heightened on social media, where people are connected in real time on a global scale.

Most online media don’t benefit from the quality control of journalists and editors that shapes the content of traditional mass media. Consequently, content is generated by experts and quacks alike, and opinion and facts become blurred. This makes it hard to judge if information is credible or not.

To complicate matters, people are able to create virtual communities of like-minded individuals who seek out information sources that they feel comfortable with. So people get more information they already agree with and few (if any) alternative views in online “echo chambers”. This results in anti- and pro-vaccine messages being shared and replicated in isolated groups, which polarises the contesting views even further.

So how can false information about vaccines shared on social media be countered? Scientists may think that sharing peer-reviewed, factual evidence about the safety of vaccines could change people’s views. Sadly, this is not the case.

Facts alone are not enough

One-way, top-down communication simply does not work. This is especially true when communicating about a controversial topic rooted in science.

That’s because a lack of information is not the problem. The issue is the way people process that information. Sometimes, people simply “refuse to know” what scientists are trying to tell them. This is what may cause vaccine opponents to reject years of research proving that vaccines don’t increase the risk of autism, even in vulnerable children.

Facts may even backfire. Research shows that bombarding vaccine-hesitant parents with evidence about the safety of vaccines may make them more vaccine-resistant. These studies confirm that it’s particularly difficult to dislodge incorrect information from someone’s memory. And it’s possibly even harder to change a person’s mind if they hold strong beliefs about a contested issue.

People’s views about contested issues in science are polarised by “cognitive bias” and “motivated reasoning” that result from their personal beliefs and values. If they are inclined to like new scientific information, they will view it more positively. But if new information dispels preexisting views, they won’t be receptive.

The so-called “negativity effect” also comes into play. People are more likely to share stories and images about harm and tragedy, than neutral or positive content. This explains why messages about the alleged dangers of vaccines, often accompanied by emotive images of sick children, are amplified more powerfully via social media compared with pro-vaccine messages.

New research

To address these issues, two new research projects are underway at the South African Research Chair in Science Communication at Stellenbosch University.

The first focuses on two public pages on Facebook that are specifically aimed at South African audiences. One is opposed to vaccines; the other is in favour.

The objective is to understand the nature and origins of anti- and pro-vaccination claims and images, as well as to explore the evidence provided in support of these claims. It’s hoped that a better understanding of claims made by these opposing groups via social media may provide a starting point for constructive dialogue between these groups.

A second study will examine how scientific information about vaccines and other contested issues is fed into online social networks by ideologically-motivated social movements to advance their cause. A better understanding of how scientific information flows from the formal science communication system to online communication networks will provide important insights about how to protect scientific information from strategic abuse.

Marina Joubert; Science Communication Researcher, Stellenbosch University

-Francois van Schalkwyk; Research Fellow, Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), Stellenbosch University

-The Conversation

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[IN NUMBERS] Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 In Africa

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While most cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been reported in the U.S. , Europe, and China, the virus is spreading rapidly across the African continent.

The confirmed worldwide cases for the virus have surpassed four million with the current figure being at 5,530,201.

The increase in new reported cases around the world has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the coronavirus a global pandemic.

The death toll has risen globally to a whopping 347,192.

The U.S. leads with 97,377 deaths. The U.K is second with 36,393. Italy is third with 32,616. Spain is fourth with 28,628, and France is fifth with 28,289.

China, where the virus originated from, maintains that its death toll is at 4,634.

The figure of the global recoveries stands at 2,318,705.

The African continent has 114,749 cases of Covid-19, while the death toll stands at 3,389. The continent has made 46,365 recoveries.

Here are the numbers in Africa:

Country Confirmed Cases Confirmed DeathsConfirmed Recoveries
Algeria7,9185824,256
Angola60317
Benin135361
Botswana29119
Burkina Faso81452672
Burundi42120
Cameroon4,4001591,822
Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)362395
Central African Republic (CAR)47918
Chad61158196
Comoros78118
Congo46916137
Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)2,301291,100
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)1,94563312
Djibouti2,270101,064
Egypt15,7867074,374
Equatorial Guinea96011165
Eritrea3939
Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)2252119
Ethiopia4335128
Gabon1,56712365
Gambia25113
Ghana6,486311,951
Guinea3,067181,575
Guinea-Bissau1,109642
Kenya1,16150380
Lesotho2
Liberia24924136
Libya72338
Madagascar4482135
Malawi82328
Mali94760558
Mauritania20067
Mauritius33210322
Mayotte1,52119894
Morocco7,3321974,377
Mozambique16448
Namibia1914
Niger92460753
Nigeria7,0162111,907
Reunion4491411
Rwanda321222
Sao Tome and Principe25184
Senegal2,909331,311
Seychelles1111
Sierra Leone60638230
Somalia1,59461204
South Africa22,58342911,100
South Sudan56366
Sudan3,378137372
Tanzania50921183
Togo36312121
Tunisia1,04647883
Uganda16066
Western Sahara66
Zambia9207336
Zimbabwe51418

Note: The numbers will be updated as new information is available.

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NO WOMAN SHOULD EVER DIE GIVING LIFE

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By –Sheikha Hend Al Qassimi and Siddharth Chatterjee

Rafiullah Wardak looks upon his newborn daughter Amina, recovering after being wounded by gunmen who stormed a maternity award in Kabul on May 19, 2020. Mr. Wardak’s wife, Nazeya, was among at least 24 people killed in the attack, including women, nurses, and newborns. Photo – Courtesy of the Rafiullah Wardak family published @csmonitor

Consider this. 24 women, children and babies were murdered at a hospital in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Even by standards of a country as accustomed to bloodshed as Afghanistan, the May 12 attack on a Kabul maternity clinic was an event of unmitigated horror.  

That anyone could target women at their most vulnerable and infants in their first hours of life defies belief and makes one despair of the world that welcomed little Amina. Born just two hours before the attack that killed her mother, Amina’s leg was shattered by a bullet.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “Any attack on innocents is unforgivable, but to attack infants and women in labour… is an act of sheer evil”.

The incident throws into relief the need to protect vulnerable populations even as the world struggles with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Health workers operating in difficult circumstances, such as the heroic Dr Najibullah Bina who led the team that conducted the first surgery on little Amina’s leg, continue to expose themselves and their families to the virus as well as to terror attacks.

The pandemic has an alarming potential to reverse hard-won socioeconomic gains inspired the March 2020 appeal by UN Secretary-General António Guterres for an immediate global ceasefire, which asked all warring parties to silence their guns to facilitate the delivery of aid and open up space for diplomacy.  

Women generally are at specific risk and disadvantage in Afghanistan, largely for reasons of culture. Their lives, quite separately from their deaths, are constrained in many ways that affect their health, education, nutrition and well-being. One of the most dangerous places in the world for a woman to give birth, Afghanistan is a microcosm of vulnerability for women and children, with a maternal mortality rate of around 638 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births and around two physicians for every 10,000 people.  

Afghanistan must figure out how to best support women and children when health efforts are under threat by both terrorists and a dangerous virus.

Around the globe, COVID-19 is worsening the situation for women already at risk, such as those in abusive relationships. Many millions are now required by emergency regulations to remain at home with their abusers, removed from the gaze of those who might otherwise see them and offer help. 

And with one in every three women globally experiencing physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, the issue is startlingly grave.  

UNFPA, the UN’s Population Fund, says the COVID-19 lockdown is disproportionately affecting women and children. It is resulting in millions more cases of violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and unintended pregnancy. “The new data shows the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 could soon have on women and girls globally,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA’s Executive Director.

Their well-being and economic resilience are threatened not only by the lockdown itself, but also by scaling down of health services and support such as hotlines, crisis centres, shelters, legal aid, protection, and counselling services.

The horror in Afghanistan further illustrates the urgency of the UN Secretary General’s clarion call for the peace-humanitarian action-development nexus to deal with      conflicts, violent extremism, and other forms of instability.  Now more than ever, there is a need for approaches that address social, economic, and political drivers of radicalisation.

There will be no one-size-fits-all model, and each country must continually assess which members of society are at the highest risk. If vulnerable groups are not properly identified and suitable responses developed, the consequences of this pandemic may be more devastating than we have dared to imagine.

Humanity has often been guilty of detachment regarding the plight of vulnerable populations.  The COVID-19 threat is an opportunity to change course.  While the virus does not discriminate, we must be careful lest our responses to it end up further entrenching current inequalities.

Images of two-hour-old Amina, swaddled in a blood-drenched blanket and with a bullet in her tiny bones must exponentially rouse our collective humanity and question the normalisation of indifference to the most vulnerable. 

About the Authors

Sheikha Hend Al-Qassemi

Sheikha Hend Al Qassimi, a multifaceted Emarati Princess, is an accomplished editor and writer, successful entrepreneur and architect and a committed philanthropist. She has a Masters in Marketing, Management & Communications from the Paris Sorbonne University. A Bachelor of Arts and Design with a double major (Architecture and Design Management) from the American University of Sharjah.  Follow her on twitter- @LadyVelvet_HFQ

Siddharth Chatterjee

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. He has served in various parts of the world with UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, UNOPS, UN Peacekeeping and the Red Cross Movement. A decorated Special Forces veteran, he is an alumnus of Princeton University. Follow him on twitter-@sidchat1

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Beyoncé And Tina Knowles-Lawson Are Accelerating Coronavirus Testing In Underserved Communities—And Challenging Other Celebrities To Do The Same

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Last weekend, close to 1,000 residents flocked to two middle schools in predominantly black Houston communities, waiting patiently in their cars to receive free COVID-19 testing. 

Unlike many other cities nationwide, Houston has had free testing available to the public but “some people, definitely minorities because we are overlooked, just aren’t aware or aren’t taking it seriously,” Tina Knowles-Lawson, a Houston native herself, tells Forbes.

That lack of awareness in the community inspired Knowles-Lawson to create the #IDIDMYPART campaign. Launched in partnership with daughter Beyoncé and her BeyGOOD initiative, the campaign encourages black and brown residents—the demographic that’s dying at a faster rate than any other in the state—to seek free COVID-19 testing. The campaign ran two testing locations on May 8 and 9, 2020, with plans to recruit celebrities in other cities to continue the initiative in the weeks and months to come.

A #IDIDMYPART testing site. BEYGOOD/#IDIDMYPART

“It’s associated with Beyoncé, in some way, so it’s a cool thing, you know?” says Knowles-Lawson. “And it’s working, because people are still going to testing sites.”

The testing locations kept that cool factor in mind. As volunteer medical professionals from the United Memorial Medical Center administered tests (the hospital is following up with each individual attendee), DJs spun the latest hits from Beyoncé and other artists. And on their way out, attendees were given vouchers to two of Houston’s most popular restaurants: Frenchy’s and Burns Original BBQ. “You didn’t have to get in your head about the test; it wasn’t so sterile,” says Knowles-Lawson. “It was almost like a celebration of getting tested. We wanted to take away the stigma.”

Knowles-Lawson also wanted to stress health and wellness more holistically, so other products including vitamins, grooming supplies, toilet paper, gloves and masks were also handed out, thanks in part to the campaign’s partners including Procter & Gamble, Matthew 25 Ministries, supermarket chain H-E-B and TWC Logistics Trucking. 

Cars lined up at an #IDIDMYPART testing site. COURTESY OF BEYGOOD/#IDIDMYPART

“People are getting upset when they see people with no mask on, but a lot of people just don’t have them,” says Knowles-Lawson.

That the campaign took place on Mother’s Day weekend was just a coincidence, but was still a fitting time for the mother-daughter collaboration to launch. Knowles-Lawson, who grew up impoverished in Galveston, Texas, has always sought to instill the give-back mentality in her daughters, Beyoncé and Solange. “It was five kids at home, and my sister had eight children, and they were always at our house—our little two-bedroom house,” recounts Knowles-Lawson, with a laugh. “But my mom could stretch a piece of steak. She just shared all the time. I never forgot that.” Once they were old enough, Beyoncé and Solange were continuing the family’s acts of service, spending their Sundays feeding Texas’ homeless community after church. 

A sign at the #IDIDMYPART testing site. BEYGOOD/#IDIDMYPART

Beyoncé’s also teamed up with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to donate $6 million in support of mental health and wellness organizations in Houston, New York, New Orleans and Detroit.

And the #IDIDMYPART campaign isn’t limited to Houston. It’s challenging other celebrities to continue the initiative in other cities nationwide. Several have already answered the call. Tyler Perry has vowed to implement the initiative in Atlanta, Octavia Spencer aims to set up sites across Mississippi, and Cookie and Magic Johnson will lead the charge in Detroit.

“Nothing would make me happier than to see people use their platforms to get this information out,” says Knowles-Lawson. “People are getting testing who wouldn’t otherwise. We can keep the momentum going.”

Brianne Garrett, Forbes Staff, ForbesWomen

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