Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, caused by any one of a number of viruses. Symptoms include high fever, vomiting and, in severe cases, seizures, paralysis and coma. Infants and elderly people are particularly vulnerable.
Union Health minister Harsh Vardhan held a high-level meeting on Sunday to address the acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) epidemic that has claimed over 100 lives in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur. Vardhan was accompanied by Minister Of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Kumar Choubey and Bihar Health minister Mangal Pandey. At least 108 children have been killed of suspected encephalitis in the last few days.
The JDU-BJP government in the state has been at the receiving end over alleged indifference and the apathy. It is also facing a barrage of attacks over the lack of facilities and at the hospitals in Muzaffarpur as well as its inept handling of the situation. One would expect a sombre reflection of the situation from political leaders who are responsible for having prevented the situation from spiralling out of hand.
That wasn’t meant to be. During a press meet to list out the measures the government planned to take to tackle the menace, state Health minister Mangal Pandey decided to ask reporters present to cover the incident an unrelated question.
A video of the incident posted by news agency ANI showed Pandey enquiring about the score in the ICC World Cup 2019 match between India and Pakistan, which was being played in Manchester then. “How many wickets have fallen till now?” he was heard asking, to which he received the answer: “Four wickets.”
#WATCH Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey asks for latest cricket score during State Health Department meeting over Muzaffarpur Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) deaths. (16.6.19) pic.twitter.com/EVenx5CB6G
— ANI (@ANI) June 17, 2019
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has already sent notices to the central and state government over the high number of AES-linked casualties and sought a detailed report within four weeks. The Centre has instructed the state government to to set up a 100-bed pediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Muzaffarpur’s Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH). Harsh Vardhan has also directed for a high-level multi-disciplinary team to be sent to Bihar immediately, which team will undertake the necessary ground work for setting up state-of-the-art multi-disciplinary research centre at Muzaffarpur.
“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/JE looking at various aspects including periodicity, cycle of disease, environmental factors and metrological data, besides other factors,” Vardhan said.
Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, caused by any one of a number of viruses. Symptoms include high fever, vomiting and, in severe cases, seizures, paralysis and coma. Infants and elderly people are particularly vulnerable. As per official figures, in 2014, the outbreak had claimed 355 lives in the region while in 2015 reported 11 deaths. In 2016 and 2017, the disease claimed 15 lives.