Renowned Bollywood Film Actor and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Hepatitis Amitabh Bachchan on Friday stressed on raising mass awareness about viral hepatitis to eliminate the deadly disease from the South-East Asia region.
"If this ailment is detected in time and care can be taken, there are medications that can halt this virus,' he said, addressing the Seventieth Regional Committee session of WHO South-East Asia Region that formally began at Paradise Island of the picturesque city of Male on Wednesday.
Making a passionate plea to eliminate viral hepatitis from South-East Asia, the globally popular Indian actor said, "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."
"We need to take urgent action against Hepatitis," Bachchan said in his address to the WHO Regional Committee session through a video link.
Regarding discrimination against the affected, he said Hepatitis is a moral and social issue as discriminations against people with Hepatitis continue 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," he said adding that these discriminations need to stop and people must know that there is a cure for hepatitis.
Speaking on the occasion, WHO Regional Director of South-East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said each year viral hepatitis infects millions across the region, killing 410 000 people - more than HIV and malaria combined.
"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," she said, suggesting the countries to prioritize action to reverse this trend.
At the Regional Committee session, the member countries on Thursday 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 immunization schedule, safe blood and safe injection practices, improved sanitation, safe water and food safety and most importantly scaling up testing and treatment of Hepatitis B and C to prevent complications such as liver cirrhosis and cancer.
The region with one-fourth of the global population, disproportionately accounts for one-third of the global hepatitis burden.