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VOA Somali and University of Minnesota Co-Host Town Hall on Vaccines and Autism in Minneapolis

Members of the Somali community and experts in public health discussed the importance of vaccinations at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, July 8, 2017.

Earlier this year, Minneapolis suffered a major outbreak of measles among its Somali community. Some parents in Minneapolis had not vaccinated their children because of fears that it might lead to autism. On July 8th, 2017, VOA and the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs co-hosted a town hall meeting which brought together members of the local Somali community, parents with autistic children, and experts in public health to discuss what lead to the outbreak of measles. The town hall titled, Vaccines & Autism: Myths and Facts, also discussed the alleged link between the vaccine and autism.

The discussion was split up into two panels, with the first panel in English and the second in Somali, as the event was carried live on Somalia’s national television, in addition to Facebook and YouTube.

The first panel focused on vaccinations and early detection of autism. Panelists for this discussion included Dr. Mohamud Dahir Afgarshe, Director of Gargar Clinic and Urgent Care in Minneapolis; Dr. Mark R. Schleiss, Professor of Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease & Immunology at the University of Minnesota; Deeqa-Ifrah Hussein, the mother of an autistic child in Minneapolis autism advocate; and Kristen Ehresmann, Director of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the Prevention and Control Division at the State of Minnesota Department of Health.

The second panel concentrated on the stigma of autism & cultural beliefs in the Somali community. Panelists for this portion of the event included Sheikh Abdirahman Sharif, Imam of Darul Hijrah Mosque in Minneapolis; Asli Ashkir, Senior Registered Nurse Consultant at the Minnesota Department of Health; Anab Gulaid, Coordinator/Researcher at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota; Dr. Ahmed Roble Mohamed, Family Physician at the Urgent Amerikan Clinic in Minnesota.

Nearly 200 people from Minnesota’s Somali community participated in person while hundreds of thousands were reached via radio, television and online outlets. The audio recording from the event aired on VOA Somali Service’s Sunday morning show. In addition, a Somali and an English language FM station in Minneapolis aired the discussion and four local TV stations covered the event. A National Geographic camera team and producer were there to film the town hall as part of a documentary they plan to produce on vaccinations.

By the end of the town hall, VOA was commended for providing critical information about a major health concern within the Somali community and for heightening the level of awareness and understanding through its multimedia programming and outside media coverage.

Additional information on the discussion can be found here.