Making a passionate plea to eliminate viral hepatitis from WHO South-East Asia Region, Amitabh Bachchan, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Hepatitis in the Region, stressed increasing awareness about the preventable disease and ending discrimination against the affected.
“If this ailment is detected in time and care can be taken, there are medications that can halt this virus. 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,” Bachchan said while addressing the Seventieth Regional Committee session of WHO South-East Asia Region.
The Goodwill Ambassador said, “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.”
“Each year viral hepatitis infects millions of people 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,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director South-East Asia, said, stressing on the need for countries to prioritize action to reverse this trend.
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 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. “We need to take urgent action against Hepatitis,” Bachchan said in his address to the Regional Committee session through a video link.