Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar faced protests on his arrival at a Muzaffarpur hospital today, days after the epidemic struck. Over a hundred children have lost their lives to AES in the past fortnight.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar faced protests upon his arrival at Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur to take stock of the situation following the death of over 100 children due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). Angered by the lack of proper facilities and the indifference of the state government, families of the affected children raised slogans against Nitish and questioned his tall claims of healthcare services in the state. This summer, alone in Muzaffarpur district, the disease outbreak has left 108 kids dead so far. While 89 deaths have been from reported from SKMCH, 19 deaths have been reported from Kejriwal Hospital. Over 400 are still admitted to hospitals. Adjoining districts like East Champaran, Samastipur, Vaishali have also been affected by the outbreak.
The Chief Minister’s visit comes two days after Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan visited the hospital. According to television reports, the Chief Minister was shown black flags upon his arrival in the city. The Chief Minister met family members of the affected kids and assured that the state government is taking all preventing measures to minimise the spread of the disease.
Watch video: Nitish Kumar faces public ire at SKMCH, Muzaffarpur
Kumar will also chair a high-level meet with doctors of Muzaffarpur and adjoining districts later today. Doctors from AIIMS, Patna have also been called to Muzaffarpur to help the doctors to provide proper treatment to children.
Meanwhile, the Central government has directed the state government to set up a separate 100 beds pediatric ICU to minimise the load on facilities at the SKMCH and Kejriwal Hospital. The Centre had also announced that it will set up 10 beds pediatric ICUs in neighbouring districts. Besides, five virology labs would be set up across Bihar.
Many parents alleged that doctors were not providing proper treatment and avoiding visiting the wards. On Sunday, TV reports said that hospitals are running out of beds in Muzzafarpur due to rising cases of encephalitis. According to their claims, the medical facilities at the state-run hospitals are not satisfactory and children are not given medicines on time, resulting in the high number of casualties.
Government lapses and unfulfilled promises
According to official data, the disease claimed 355 lives in 2014. The same year, then Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had visited the same hospital in Muzaffarpur and announced to set up a super-specialty hospital to provide quality treatment to the people of the region. Besides, he had announced to set up a 10-bed facility for treatment of children exclusively. However, five years down the line, that promise is still incomplete.
On Sunday, when Vardhan visited the hospital, he reiterated the same promise and assured that the facility will become operational within six months. Had the government fulfilled its 2014 promise, many kids could have received treatment on time and possibly saved.
Official data shows that that disease left over 11 kids dead in 2015. The combined toll in 2016 and 2017 was 30. However, unofficial reports peg the death toll over the years much higher than what is being officially reported. As per these claims, the disease wreaked havoc in the region in 2012, claiming 424 lives. In 2013, the toll stood at 222. In 2014, 379 encephalitis-related deaths were reported in the region. In 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, the toll was 90, 103, 54 and 33, respectively.
In 2012, the government had promised to set up a research lab in Muzaffarpur to check why children are getting affected to the syndrome. The disease impacts children every year in Muzaffarpur and eastern Uttar Pradesh regions. It is believed to be linked to a toxic substance found in the litchi fruit which is grown in Muzaffarpur. According to an estimate, around 3 lakh metric tonne litchis are grown every year in Muzaffarpur and neighbouring areas. It is believed that eating litchi on an empty stomach causes a sharp decline in the glucose levels in the body, thus affecting the life support system in a minor’s body. However, despite the high number of deaths reported every year, the exact reason remains a mystery. Seven years and hundreds of deaths later, the government still does not have a clear answer.
The Bihar government has also issued an advisory, asking parents to not feed litchi to their kids on an empty stomach and also avoid eating half-ripe or unripe litchi. Doctors also have asked people to avoid feeding litchi to their children empty stomach. Litchi is a seasonal fruit which is grown during the summer and high humidity environment. The period just ahead of the Monsoon is a suitable time for the farming of litchi. This year, the monsoon is delayed by nearly two weeks and it is believed that this is one of the reasons for the high casualty.