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WhatsApp Users Spread Antivaccine Rumors in India

WhatsApp has an estimated 300 million users in India, where hundreds of millions have come online for the first time

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WhatsApp has made a series of changes, including labeling forwarded messages to inform users when they have received something not from their immediate contacts. Pixabay

Anti-vaccine 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.

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.

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FILE – The WhatsApp app logo is seen on a smartphone in this picture illustration. VOA

In the U.S., 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 U.S. 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 U.S.-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 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.

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WhatsApp on a smartphone device. Pixabay

India is vulnerable to potential damage from incorrect information about vaccines. The vaccination rate among children in the U.S. is still above 92%, a level considered adequate for preventing widespread outbreaks. But in India, only about 88% 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.

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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. (IANS)

Next Story

Canon India Ramps Up Efforts To Grab Healthcare Imaging, Security Market

On the camera front, India offers great opportunities in segments like wedding, wildlife, sports and media

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Canon India also showcased EOS-1D X Mark III - the flagship product from the Canon EOS range, featuring latest advancements and innovations in digital imaging technology. Wikimedia Commons

After cementing its position across four key business verticals — camera, home printers, office printers and commercial printing solutions — Canon India is now ramping up its effort to top the growing healthcare imaging and security surveillance market in the country, a top company official said here on Wednesday.

After grabbing a substantial share in the Indian market in the professional printing segment which has been among the fastest growing verticals for Canon in India, the company now eyes diagnostic imaging market which is witnessing a tremendous growth with new super-specialty hospitals and diagnostic centres being opened at a fast pace, including in the tier II and II towns.

“In 2020, our key focus areas will be medical and security verticals in India. There have been a strong demand in the field of diagnostic imaging like MRIs, CT scans and X rays in the recent past which, we think, is an important segment for us in this country going forward,” Kazutada Kobayashi, President and CEO, Canon India, told IANS.

Although India will be the youngest country in the world by 2020 with a median age of 29 years, the number of elderly people is likely to increase significantly after that, according to the “State of Elderly in India” report.

By 2021, the elderly population will reach 143 million.

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After cementing its position across four key business verticals — camera, home printers, office printers and commercial printing solutions — Canon India is now ramping up its effort to tap the growing healthcare imaging and security surveillance market in the country. Wikimedia Commons

According to market research firm Mordor Intelligence, the increase in life expectancy over the years has resulted in an increase in the population of the elderly. Hence, the growing geriatric population is expected to augment the demand for diagnostic imaging equipment.

The global medical imaging market was approximately $34 billion in 2018 and is expected to generate around $48.6 billion by 2025, according to Zion Market Research, and the of a huge patient pool and rise in the number of hospitals and diagnostic centres in India, Japan and China are anticipated to fuel the medical imaging market in the Asia Pacific.

“Today, if you go to a hospital and take a picture of your chest, that needs to be printed on a film. We propose to print that on a paper. This is my economical and environmental-friendly vision,” said a beaming Kobayashi on the sidelines of the launch of its flagship camera EOS-1D X Mark III.

According to him, security is another big area to focus on.

“Security surveillance camera systems have come of age and at Canon, we are aiming to make a revolution in this area soon,” said the executive.

Canon’s business in India is divided between business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) verticals.

The B2C category includes camera and home printers while B2B includes commercial printers and sales to corporates and MSMEs.

Canon India also showcased EOS-1D X Mark III – the flagship product from the Canon EOS range, featuring latest advancements and innovations in digital imaging technology.

“On the camera front, India offers great opportunities in segments like wedding, wildlife, sports and media. One great observation is that the demand for high-end cameras is also coming from smaller Indian towns and we are excited about this,” said C. Sukumaran, Director, Consumer Systems Products and Imaging Communication Products, Canon India.

Priced at Rs 575,995 (taxes included) for the body, including 512GB CF Express Card and Reader, the EOS-1D X Mark III will be available mid-February onwards at select retail outlets across the country.

The EOS-1D X Mark III offers an unmatched continuous shooting speed up to 16fps with viewfinder shooting. It houses a newly developed 20.1MP Full Frame CMOS sensor.

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After grabbing a substantial share in the Indian market in the professional printing segment which has been among the fastest growing verticals for Canon in India, the company now eyes diagnostic imaging market which is witnessing a tremendous growth with new super-specialty hospitals and diagnostic centres being opened at a fast pace, including in the tier II and II towns. Wikimedia Commons

“The newly developed algorithms in the camera enable not just eye detect and face detect autofocus but also head detect autofocus. This allows highly precise autofocus and tracking even in challenging conditions and with multiple and rapidly moving subjects,” informed Sukumaran.

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According to Kobayashi, the high-end camera will further enable the company promote the photography culture in India.

“Our latest offering will cater to the growing list of professional photographers in India and open up newer possibilities in the imaging space,” he added. (IANS)