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Popular model sparks backlash for faking her death to bring awareness to cervical cancer

Doctor explains importance of screening for cervical cancer
Doctor explains importance of screening for cervical cancer 03:26

A popular Indian model and actress has sparked an online backlash after revealing this weekend she had faked her death in an Instagram post as part of a cervical cancer awareness campaign.

Poonam Pandey "bravely fought the disease" and died, according to a statement published on her social media Friday, but the fake announcement was soon met with online criticism that included accusations it was a "deceptive stunt."

A flurry of obituaries from media outlets followed the original announcement and her Wikipedia page was also updated to reflect her apparent death, while Bollywood stars posted mournful tributes.

Profile Shoot Of Model Poonam Pandey
Poonam Pandey, a model and actress, poses for a profile shoot at her house on May 25, 2015 in Thane, India. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint via Getty Images

But others had expressed skepticism after noticing that footage of Pandey aboard a boat in Goa, apparently in good health, had been posted to her account four days before the announcement.

"I hope this is not a publicity stunt disguised as creating awareness for cervical cancer, which would be unethical and irresponsible, especially when dealing with sensitive issues like health awareness," one commenter wrote on Friday.

The 32-year-old later conceded to her 1.3 million followers in another video posted on Instagram that her death had been a hoax.

"Yes, I faked my demise, extreme I know. But suddenly we all are talking about cervical cancer, aren't we?" Pandey said. "I am proud of what my death news has been able to achieve."

However, many lambasted Pandey for what one commenter described as her "attention-seeking behavior."

Another wrote: "Engaging in a deceptive stunt, like faking one's death, under the guise of 'raising awareness'... is not only unethical but also manipulative.

"Honestly shame on you for this stunt. Next time no one will take your real death seriously!" they said.

Pandey seemed unfazed by the criticism, and in a subsequent Instagram post, she thanked the ad firm Schbang for working with her.

"We believe in this cause and stand by this campaign that we started working on 4 months ago with the right intentions," she wrote

Pandey began her modelling career in 2010 and has garnered a reputation for outlandish stunts and risque behavior.

She pledged to strip for the India cricket team if they won the 2011 Cricket World Cup at home, later posting a video online of her shedding her clothes at Wankhede Stadium where the tournament's final was held.

Pandey parleyed her fame into several acting credits in Bollywood including the 2013 erotic thriller Nasha, in which she played a teacher who begins a sexual relationship with two high school students.

India Bollywood
Indian model turned actress Poonam Pandey attends a promotional event for her upcoming Bollywood movie "Nasha" in Hyderabad, India, July 21, 2013.  Mahesh Kumar A / AP

India accounts for nearly one-quarter of the world's cervical cancer cases, according to the World Health Organization, with more than 200 women losing their lives every day to the disease.

Health campaigners have urged the government to roll out a national HPV vaccination campaign for young girls, which in other countries has drastically cut the incidence of cervical cancer.

January was Cervical Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness about the fourth most common cancer in women.

Adults younger than 50 are being increasingly diagnosed with breast, colon and cervical cancer, according to a recent report from the American Cancer Society.

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