Polio Eradication: Addressing Anti-Vaccination Propaganda on Social Media in Pakistan

$30,000 USD

Challenge overview

Pakistan and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) are facing a new challenge, driven by technological advancement and an increasing number of people using social media to seek and share news. Rumors and misinformation about polio vaccination and the program spread like wildfire on social media, including in Pakistan where the number of people with access to internet/smartphone has significantly increased over the past years, and continues to increase.

The negative impact on the programme of the anti-vaccine propaganda and rumors was most visibly seen during a recent vaccination campaign in Peshawar. During a National Immunization Days (NID) campaign, a rumor that the polio vaccine would make children unwell, led to more than 37 000 children rushed to hospital in one day, a basic health unit set on fire, and indirectly the death of several vaccinators and security staff. This coordinated scare tactic had a devastating impact on the NIDs and will continue to impact future immunization efforts in the country.

The country team and GPEI program is looking for innovative ways to help quickly detect, control and/or respond to the spread of anti-vaccination propaganda on social media in an urban population.

This Theoretical Challenge requires only a written proposal.

In 2017, only 8 cases of paralytic poliomyelitis (polio) were detected in Pakistan.  However, since 2018, cases have increased again and at the start of September 2019, 62 cases have already been reported. Multiple factors have been identified as contributing to this change in progress, with changing vaccine acceptance and low risk perception of the disease as significant drivers.

Repeated house-to-house polio immunization campaigns and emergency communication over a prolonged period have led to community fatigue, contributing to changing vaccine acceptance. The polio program is currently working to build and sustain trust with parents, caregivers and communities nationwide, and directly address the reasons for refusal.

The Seekers are looking for your help in finding technology and a plan to:

  1. Detect anti-vaccination propaganda as quickly as possible.
  2. Control the propaganda which could be to slow it down, limit its range and/or lessen its impact.
  3. Respond to the incident. How does the Seeker respond after the fact to maintain trust and recover quickly with minimal effect and directly address reasons for vaccination refusal?

This is a Theoretical Challenge that requires only a written proposal to be submitted. The Challenge award will be contingent upon theoretical evaluation of the proposal by the Seeker.

One award of $10,000 will be guaranteed to a Solver and the Seeker hopes to award up to two more Solvers at $10,000 for a total of $30,000.

To receive an award, the Solvers will not have to transfer their exclusive IP rights to the Seeker. Instead, Solvers will grant to the Seeker a non-exclusive license to practice their solutions. 

Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on November 8, 2019.

Late submissions will not be considered.


The Seeker for this InnoCentive Challenge is Spencer Trask and Co., in partnership with Rotary and the World Health Organization, who’s shared goal with this Challenge is to support the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and Pakistan’s polio eradication program.  

Spencer Trask & Co., a privately held advanced technology development firm, helps entrepreneurs build high impact ventures that change the world. The firm was instrumental in launching leading companies in artificial intelligence, genomics, healthcare, mobile technology, and Internet infrastructure

The GPEI is a global, public-private partnership led by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi the Vaccine Alliance.

Rotary brings together a global network of volunteer leaders dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. Rotary connect 1.2 million members from more than 35,000 Rotary clubs in almost every country in the world. Their service improves lives both locally and internationally, from helping those in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world. Rotary is founding partner of the GPEI, and has worked to support polio eradication efforts for more than 30 years.

The World Health Organization, through its headquarters, regional and country offices, provides the overall technical direction and strategic planning for the management and coordination of the GPEI.  WHO is responsible for ensuring all components of the eradication strategies are well implemented, and has a key role in monitoring and evaluation of all aspects of the programme. WHO also coordinates research, provides operational support to ministries of health, and the training/deployment of human resources.  In addition, WHO has a lead role in establishing certification standard acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) surveillance (including the laboratory network), resource mobilization, donor coordination, advocacy and communication of information.

Pakistan’s polio eradication programme started in 1994. Since then, thanks to high-impact immunization campaigns, annual polio caseload was reduced from 20 000 cases in the early 1990s to just 12 in 2018. Despite the current challenges, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme is a solid and mature programme led by a network of Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs) at national and provincial levels, where all partners work as “one team under one roof” under the leadership of the Government of Pakistan. The scale of the programme is unprecedented: during National Immunization Days (NIDs), a workforce of more than 260 000 frontline workers go house to house to vaccinate more than 39 million children under the age of five.

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