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Game changers: Cricketers use their popularity to bat for health

Cricket is so popular in India, and players have such immense reach that it makes them effective champions for issues close to their hearts

health and fitness Updated: Apr 02, 2017 10:34 IST
Anonna Dutt
Brett Lee with Kanav Sharma, a young boy who was born wiht hearing impairment. A cochlear implant has partially restored his hearing ability. Lee works to spread awareness about hearing problems.
Brett Lee with Kanav Sharma, a young boy who was born wiht hearing impairment. A cochlear implant has partially restored his hearing ability. Lee works to spread awareness about hearing problems.(Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Australian cricketer Brett Lee was in Delhi last week to bowl out ignorance about hearing defects in children. He’s one of the dozen cricketers batting for improving health and sanitation in India.

“Universal screening a few weeks after birth to pick up hearing defects should be mandatory because children must receive the cochlear implants to help them hear within the first two years of lives, ideally within four months,” said Lee, who is Cochlear’s Global Hearing Ambassador. Lee became involved when his five-year-old son was diagnosed with hearing loss in his right ear after a head injury.

More than a million children in India can benefit from hearing aids or cochlear implant surgery, but few use them. Kanav Sharma was lucky he did. His grandfather noticed he did not respond to sound the way his cousin did at age one. He was diagnosed with hearing impairment from birth because of an inner ear defect, but a cochlear implant partially restored his hearing ability. Kanav, now 11, has emerged as a champion skater, winning 30 medals.

Other cricketers have other pet projects. Cricketers in India have participated in several health campaigns and public service advertisements over the years for creating awareness about various health issues.

Wash up with Sachin

Master-blaster Sachin Tendulkar has done campaigns on polio and sanitation with Unicef. “It started off as just three or four public service advertisements (PSA) on sanitation and hand-washing. As on today, Sachin is positioned as the voice of choice on the issue of sanitation and hygiene globally,” said Louis Georges Arsenault, representative, UNICEF India.

In one of the videos, Tendulkar tells children they must wash their hands before every meal and a jingle tells them how. In another, children playing cricket are about to pick up their ball from a dirty area, but Tendulkar stops them and tells them about open defecation and hand-washing. “Hand-washing can reduce diarrhoeal cases by 47 per cent and acute respiratory illnesses by 30 per cent,” said Arsenault.

Dravid, Yuvi speak up

The former India captain Rahul Dravid was the ministry of health’s face in a campaign against tobacco use. In the PSA, urges people to quit tobacco, which kills one million people in India each year. Dravid also collaborated with Unicef to create awareness about HIV/AIDS and childhood nutrition. “Good nutrition in the first two years of life lays the foundation for a healthy and successful life,” he says in a PSA.

In 2011, Yuvraj Singh was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour and had to undergo three cycles of chemotherapy after which he made his international comeback in a Twenty20 match. His experience with cancer prompted him to start YouWeCan foundation to create awareness about prevention and early detection.

Yuvraj Singh with cencer-affected children in Mumbai. (HT PHOTO)

“For me, the biggest battle was cancer; I overcame it with all your love, all your wishes. So, though YouWeCan, we want to open detection centres. If cancer is detected early, half the battle is won. If Yuvi can, you can,” says Yuvraj Singh, in a personal message on the website. Cancer kills over 12 million people every year. “We are not looking to cure cancer; we are telling you how to fight it. Ninety per cent of cancers are curable, if detected in stage one. The cost to get cancer screening for one person is Rs 550,” he says.

Cricket gets attention

Over the years, several other cricketers have participated in campaigns and PSAs on various health issues, including Virendra Sehwag’s Think Wise campaign on HIV/AIDS and Unicef’s ‘Ek star aisa bhi’ on immunisation.

When Unicef’s Team Swachh campaign, which was launched during the T20 World Cup last year, Sachin’s video got more than 1,50,000 views. Four videos with cricketers got 97 per cent of all views around the Swacch campaign.

“Cricket is the most popular sport in India, so when cricketers speak people tend to listen and absorb the message. They not only help the message reach a wider audience, but also ensure people get affected by the messaging,” said Dr Kumar.

“Sachin has the ability to influence communities, children, parents and caregivers through his extreme popularity. His words generate an interest in people and possibly later, evoke some desire to take action and contribute to the issues in any manner they can,” said Arsenault.

“In this Sound of Cricket campaign, my role is to use my profile for the right reasons. I always think that, it is not for a nice tea at the restaurant, not for a free coffee at a cafe, use your profile to make people understand that we are trying to make a change. Plus, I just want to help,” said Lee.

“When I was in school, most students don’t listen to their teachers. When a popular surfer came to our school, the kids all listened,” said Lee.

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