Bengaluru, 12 May, 2017: Dr. U S Vishal Rao of Karnataka, India has been honored with the 2017 Judy Wilkenfeld Award for International Tobacco Control Excellence for his leadership in the fight against tobacco use in his home state of Karnataka and across India. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) has present Dr. Rao with the award at its annual gala on May 10, 2017, in Washington, D.C. CTFK is a part of Bloomberg & World Health Organizations Tobacco Free Initiative partners working towards implementation of the W.H.O Framework convention on tobacco control. This is the world’s first public health treaty to which more than 180 countries are a signatory.
The Wilkenfeld Award was established in honor of the late Judy Wilkenfeld, the founder of Tobacco-Free Kids’ international program and a leader in the adoption of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the influential international treaty that commits countries to take strong action to reduce tobacco use. The award is given annually to an international tobacco control advocate who has made major contributions to reducing tobacco use in low- and middle-income countries and who inspires others to do the same in the spirit exemplified by Wilkenfeld.
Dr. Rao is the Chief of Head and Neck Surgical Oncology at Healthcare Global Enterprise Cancer Hospital as well as a Member of the High Level Committee on Tobacco Control for the Government of Karnataka and Patron, Voice of Tobacco Victim (VoTV), India.
As both a surgeon and a public health advocate, Dr. Rao has become a leading voice in India’s battle against a deadly tobacco epidemic. Dr. Rao has brought together leaders from the government, nonprofit and private sectors to encourage collaboration in taking on the leading cause of preventable death. He has helped spur tougher enforcement of India’s Cigarettes and Tobacco Products Act of 2003– which bans smoking in many indoor public places, restricts tobacco advertising and marketing, and mandates large pictorial health warnings on tobacco packs.
“As a surgeon, I see the impact of tobacco use first hand in my patients,” said Dr. Rao “Treating patients already suffering from the horrible burden of tobacco-related diseases is not enough. We must implement strong laws that help prevent Indians from starting to smoke. With strong government commitment, collaboration across sectors, and fierce advocates willing to champion the cause, I know we can greatly reduce the burden of tobacco use in India.”
Dr. Rao’s efforts have led to a ban on gutka, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes in Karnataka – impacting nearly 65 million people. Dr. Rao has also been influential in defending India’s requirement for pictorial health warnings covering 85 percent of tobacco packs – among the largest in the world.
In addition to greatly impacting India’s policies on tobacco use, Dr. Rao has changed the lives those most affected by the horrible harms of tobacco use. He has designed affordable voice prosthesis for throat cancer patients who undergo laryngectomies – allowing victims of tobacco use to speak once again.
“The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is proud to recognize Dr. Vishal Rao as a tireless tobacco control and public health advocate,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “His commitment to both those suffering from the impacts of tobacco use and to future generations of Indians, sets him apart as a true champion for tobacco control in India.”
Globally, tobacco kills six million people each year and is projected to kill one billion people this century unless governments take effective action now to reduce tobacco use.
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