Protests Erupt in Muzaffarpur as Encephalitis Deaths Cross 100
Nitish Kumar, on Monday, called an internal meeting of senior health department officials to review the situation.
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As the death toll of suspected encephalitis in Muzaffarpur touches 108, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar arrived in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district on Tuesday, 18 June, to take stock of the situation. According to India Today, the chief minister interacted with the doctors and the parents of the ailing children.
During the CM’s visit, locals staged a protest outside Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital while Kumar was present there, ANI reported.
WHAT DO WE KNOW SO FAR?
The death toll in Muzaffarpur alone due to suspected Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) has, so far, touched 108, ANI reported.
As of Tuesday morning, at least 89 children have died of suspected AES in Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital, while 19 have died in Kejriwal Hospital in the district.
The total death toll caused by the disease in the whole of Bihar currently stands at 127, NDTV reported.
According to Bihar minister Suresh Sharma, around 200 children have been treated and discharged from hospitals.
WHAT IS ENCEPHALITIS AND WHAT ARE OFFICIALS SAYING?
Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) is a condition that affects the central nervous system, mostly in children and young adults. It starts with high fever, then affects neurological functions causing mental disorientation, seizure, confusion, delirium, and even coma.
Earlier, officials had said that the deaths were caused by hypoglycemia, a condition caused by very low level of blood sugar, and not encephalitis, as was being reported by the media.
Health Department's Principal Secretary Sanjay Kumar had said that the reason could be that the children may be sleeping with an empty stomach coupled with constant high temperature, lack of water in the body and glucose level in the blood, a PTI report said.
Officials of the health department also advised the parents not to feed their children litchis on an empty stomach and also asked them to avoid both half-ripe or unripe litchis as a precautionary measure, The Times of India reported.
WHAT ACTION HAS CM NITISH KUMAR TAKEN?
Nitish Kumar on Monday called an internal meeting of senior health department officials to review the situation. This came amid criticism of the Kumar-led government for alleged negligence and lack of preparation in handling the outbreak.
The state government has, however, maintained that all requisite steps have been taken to handle the situation.
Earlier on Monday, Kumar, while expressing grief over the children’s death in Muzaffarpur, had announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh as ex-gratia to the next of the kin of the deceased.
He also directed the officials of the health department, the district administration and the doctors to take all possible measures to tackle the disease.
Chief Secretary of Bihar Deepak Kumar said ambulance facility will be made free-of-cost and the fare will be reimbursed if one comes to the hospital in a private vehicle, ANI reported.
“Expenses of all treatment will be borne by the state government. Ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh each will be given to families of deceased,” Kumar added.
WHAT ACTION IS THE CENTRE TAKING?
Union minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday had issued directions for immediately sending another high-level team to Muzaffarpur to set up a state-of-the-art multi-disciplinary research centre in the wake of the deaths.
According to Vardhan, five virological labs will be set up in different districts in the state. The districts can be decided in consultation with the state government and can be funded through National Health Mission (NHM), he said.
"To establish the cause of the disease, there is an urgent need for an inter-disciplinary, high-quality research team. The research team shall work with the children suffering from AES looking at various aspects, including periodicity, the cycle of disease, environmental factors, and metrological data, besides other factors," Vardhan said, reported NDTV.
A case had been registered against Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan and Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey on Monday for not spreading awareness about AES prior to its outbreak in Bihar.
The National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) has issued a notice to Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar and Secretary, Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, on Monday, calling for a detailed report over the deaths.
The Commission has also sought the status of implementation of National Programme for Prevention and Control of Japanese Encephalitis Virus (NPPCJA) and other steps taken to deal with the situation. The response is expected within four weeks.
WHAT ARE POLITICIANS SAYING?
JDU MP Dinesh Chandra Yadav said that the deaths were “unfortunate” and blamed the summer season for the disease.
“Muzaffarpur incident (death of 108 children due to AES) is unfortunate. For many years whenever summer season arrives, children get sick and number of deaths becomes big. It happens, government also makes arrangements. Once the rains start, it will stop,” Yadav said, reported ANI.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal took a dig at Home Minister Amit Shah, following his tweet on India’s victory over Pakistan in the ICC World Cup, by asking him to “do a strike on encephalitis” in Bihar.
RJD will also hold protests across Bihar on 24 June over the deaths.
BJP leader CP Thakur also questioned the Bihar government stating that the government comes into active mode only at the time of outbreak, when it should've been active beforehand to prevent it.
HOW DID THE DOCTOR’S STRIKE AFFECT THE SITUATION?
The nation-wide doctors’ strike sparked at the NRS Medical College in Kolkata had paralysed medical and health services in Bihar.
The strike, called by Indian Medical Association (IMA) in protest against the recent assault on junior doctors at the NRS hospital, has received support from Bihar State Health Services Association, reported PTI.
Long queues of patients were seen at Patna Medical College and Hospital, the largest hospital in the state, as services at OPDs remained completely suspended.
(With inputs from ANI, PTI, NDTV, The Times of India and India Today.)
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