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Urgent action needed to eliminate hepatitis: Amitabh Bachchan
Making a passionate plea to eliminate hepatitis from India and South East Asia, megastar Amitabh Bachchan – WHO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Hepatitis in the region – today emphasised on increasing awareness about the viral disease and ending discrimination against the affected.
Viral hepatitis kills 410,000 people each year in WHO South-East Asia Region comprising 11 countries – India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, North Korea, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste, according to the figures by the global health body.
“If this ailment is detected in time and care can be taken, there are medications that can halt this virus,” Bachchan said while addressing the 70th Regional Committee session via Skype.
The five day annual governing body meeting is being hosted by Maldives and will end on September 10.
“A very high burden of hepatitis exists in the South-East Asia Region. Whatever work we can do to eliminate hepatitis – to detect and cure it we must do,” said Bachchan.
“This is a moral and social issue. Discrimination against people with hepatitis continues to happen socially in our midst.
“There are women who are refused marriage, women who are refused the ability to bear children because they have hepatitis B and there are countries who deny visa to people with hepatitis. Discrimination needs to stop. People must know that there is a cure for hepatitis,” he said.
The inaugural session of the meeting on September 6 was attended by health ministers and officials from 11 member countries and representatives of partner organisations. India is being represented by Health Secretary C K Mishra.
“Each year viral hepatitis infects millions of people across the region, killing 410,000 people – more than HIV and malaria combined,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director South-East Asia.
“It is also a major cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis, contributing to premature morbidity and mortality, and undermining economic growth and the push to achieve health and wellbeing for all,” said Singh, stressing on the need for countries to prioritise action to reverse this trend.
The region with one-fourth of the global population, disproportionately accounts for one-third of the global hepatitis burden, WHO said.
“We need to take urgent action against hepatitis,” Bachchan said in his address.
At the Regional Committee session yesterday, member countries adopted the regional action plan to end viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.
Using the framework of universal health coverage to ensure that no one is left behind, WHO has developed the plan in consultation with member countries, community leaders, development partners, academia and professional societies.
The regional action plan provides a framework for implementing evidence based interventions.
As preventive measures WHO has been advocating for vaccinating newborns with hepatitis B first at birth and then two to three doses of the vaccine as part of routine immunisation schedule.
Other measures have also been emphasised such as safe blood and injection practices, improved sanitation, safe water and food safety; and scaling up testing and treatment of hepatitis B and C to prevent complications such as liver cirrhosis and cancer.