Mumbai: Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan has been appointed by the World Health Organization 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 Mr 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.
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.
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 related issues in the country such as childhood immunization programme, tuberculosis and ‘clean India’ campaign.