Fake news and anti-vaccine propaganda threaten public health: Former New Zealand PM

Fake news and anti-vaccine propaganda threaten public health: Former New Zealand PM

By Binsal Abdulkader

ABU DHABI 18th November, 2019 (WAM) – Certain campaigns spreading fake news on public health issues, including the anti-vaccine propaganda, are a threat to global efforts for eliminating and eradicating infectious diseases, according to Helen Clark, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP.

"The Internet and social media platforms can be powerful tools for good, helping to connect and educate communities," she said in an interview with the Emirates News Agency, WAM.

"However, there is a downside to social media; for example, those campaigns spreading fake news detrimental to public health, such as the anti-vaccine propaganda in countries rich and poor," she added in the interview ahead of her participation in the Reaching the Last Mile, RLM, Forum, which will take place on Tuesday at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

"Technology, however, also provides new opportunities - for example, through artificial intelligence and remote diagnosis, and we should continue to embrace innovative means of improving public health," she stressed.

"The last mile is always the hardest, and that is why is so important," Clark said about the RLM Forum.

The biennial invitation-only Forum convenes global health leaders to share insights and best practices on how to map out, eliminate and eradicate infectious diseases.

The event is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Forum is inspired by the conviction of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed that no person should needlessly suffer or die from a preventable disease and that investment in health is crucial to global development.

"I want to pay tribute to His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed for conceptualising and hosting this important event, and for shining a spotlight on the world’s neglected diseases. His commitment in this way to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities is inspiring," Clark explained.

Expressing her optimism about such efforts, Clark said, "Investment in health is crucial to global development, and it is hoped to secure funding, share knowledge widely, forge new relationships in the global health community and ultimately accelerate the pace towards preventable disease elimination."

She had served as the Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008, and as Administrator of the UNDP and Chair of the UN Development Group from 2009 to 2017.

"I’m proud to be part of the RLM Forum, and to have been a judge on the REACH Awards [that recognise frontline health workers in the field of disease elimination]. It is vital that we all do all we can to map out, eliminate, and eradicate infectious diseases, as well as celebrate the frontline health workers who are doing heroic work on the ground," she noted.

Commenting about the biennial Recognising Excellence Around Champions of Health, REACH, awards, Clark shared a personal experience about such health workers.

"In Nairobi, Kenya, recently, I visited frontline workers in an informal settlement who are working to provide family planning services to adolescent girls and young women and to prevent HIV transmission," she said.

"They combine their work with support for education scholarships and livelihoods. They do wonderful work with and for the poorest of the poor and enable girls to reach their dreams," Clark noted.

On a separate note, Clarke praised the current New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

"Ardern has provided great leadership to the country and is an inspiration to all New Zealanders, as well as women, and working mothers, across the world.

"I congratulate her and wish her every success. Her government has taken decisive steps to reduce child poverty and improve mental health services," the Former Prime Minister said.

Asked whether her recent comment in another interview, "the word ‘retirement’ is not in my dictionary," would inspire the ageing population across the globe, she said, "I hope so! I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet amazing and inspiring people throughout my career as a Member of Parliament and also as Prime Minister of New Zealand, Administrator of the UNDP and now in my many other public roles."

"I will meet more this week as we celebrate courageous and inspiring frontline heath workers. These experiences inspire me to keep working for a better life for all. We should also ensure that there is adequate provision for those who choose to retire," she concluded.