World Health Organization today appointed legendary Indian movie star Amitabh Bachchan as its Goodwill Ambassador for Hepatitis in South-East Asia Region to boost awareness and intensify action to arrest the hepatitis epidemic.
“I am absolutely committed to the cause of hepatitis. As a person living with hepatitis B, I know the pain and sufferings that hepatitis causes. No one should ever suffer from viral hepatitis,” Bachchan said at an event here organized by World Health Organization.
Announcing Bachchan’s association with WHO, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for WHO South-East Asia, said, “this historic association is expected to help strengthen WHO’s efforts in reducing the high numbers of premature deaths and illnesses from viral hepatitis which is not only causing hardships to individuals and families, but also impacting health and development across the Region.
Though preventable, viral hepatitis kills 410 000 people in the Region every year, mostly people in their productive years. Nearly 90 million people suffer from chronic liver disease that is driving rates of liver cancer and cirrhosis in the Region, according to the latest WHO estimates released this year.
“Bachchan’s voice is one that is listened to by people across the country, regardless of cultural, social or economic background and can make real change possible. We have witnessed this in polio eradication,” J P Nadda, Minister of Health and Family Welfare, India, said in a video message, while congratulating Bachchan and WHO for the momentous partnership.
As WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Hepatitis in the Region, Bachchan will lend his voice and support to public awareness programmes that aim to scale up preventive measures and advocate for early diagnosis and treatment of viral hepatitis to reduce the disease burden.
Among preventive measures, hepatitis B vaccination – a dose within 24 hours of birth followed by three doses in the first six months of life, as per the national immunization schedule of countries in the Region, – provides protection and prevents mother-to-child transmission of the disease. Safe practices related to injections, blood transfusions and other procedures can prevent the spread of hepatitis B and C while clean water and hygienic food can reduce the risk of hepatitis A and E infection.
“Bachchan’s support will reinforce WHO’s efforts to end hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
As WHO Goodwill Ambassador, Bachchan will be advocating for the full implementation of WHO South-East Asia Region’s action plan for hepatitis which seeks to provide a road map for sustainable prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for all forms of hepatitis within the universal health care framework for ensuring equitable and affordable services. Based on the global action plan, the regional action plan also responds to the call of the Sustainable Development Goal on Health, which mentions the need to address hepatitis specifically.
“We can and must end hepatitis. With Bachchan on board as our Goodwill Ambassador, we are confident of reaching our goal,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
This is the first formal association between WHO and Bachchan, who served as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Polio in India, and has been supporting and promoting various health and related issues in the country such as childhood immunization programme, tuberculosis and ‘clean India’ campaign.