Patna: Protests erupted in Bihar over the high death rates of children from suspected acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) over the past fortnight.
According to an official report, a mystery disease has killed 112 children while dozens of others are still admitted to various hospitals in the state. The rise in the death toll to 112 included new reported deaths in Bihar.
Most of the deaths have been reported from north Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district and around it.
While 85 children died at the state-run Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH), 18 others died at a private hospital in Muzaffarpur town. The rise in the death toll to 112 included new reported deaths in Bihar.
At present, more than 400 other people are admitted with complaints of AES, sources said.
Villagers were angry that the state government didn’t seem serious about the crisis, even as their children continued to die, and blamed the government for ignoring the plight of the poor. Most victims are impoverished and belong to ‘backward’ or ‘Dalit’ families, it is said.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar came face to face with angry protesters on Tuesday when he visited SKMCH in Muzaffarpur to meet victims’ families.
“Nitish Kumar go back and chief minister down, down,” shouted angry villagers congregated at the hospital gate as the chief minister entered amid heavy security. The chief minister visited the hospital 17 days after the disease broke out in the region.
“My child was referred to AIIMS in New Delhi when I admitted [him] for treatment at the local hospital. Tell me how can I arrange for money to rush there and spend on his treatment? I have already taken a loan of Rs40,000 [Dh2,101] from villagers,” shouted a protesting woman.
Soon after the outbreaks, the leaders come, make announcements and go, but the problems persist. We don’t want monetary compensations for deaths of our children, we want eradication of this disease which has robbed happiness from hundreds of families.
Other protesters alleged that neither the government nor the doctors had been taking them seriously, evidenced by the fact that the disease has been breaking out each year.
“Soon after the outbreaks, the leaders come, make announcements and go, but the problems persist. We don’t want monetary compensations for deaths of our children, we want eradication of this disease which has robbed happiness from hundreds of families,” another protester said.
Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey is facing more criticism after he asked reporters about the scores in India’s cricket match against Pakistan on Sunday during a press briefing by federal health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, who had visited Muzaffarpur to take stock of the situation on the day.
The federal minister’s deputy Ashwini Kumar Choubey, on the other hand, was found taking a nap during the same press briefing about the deaths of children from suspected encephalitis. This invited bitter criticism from the masses on the social media. Choube, however, claims he was ruminating by closing his eyes.
Strangely, health experts are still to diagnose the disease that has been claiming scores of children every year. While some experts term it “encephalitis”, others describe it as “acute encephalitis syndrome” (AES), which causes inflammation of the membrane of the brain, which leads to sudden fever, headache, disorientation, tremors, convulsion, vomiting and paralysis. Yet another group of experts have said the children have been dying due to hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar.
A noticeable point, however, is that the disease strikes during summer and turns deadlier as the temperature rises. Also, most of the victims are malnourished.
A Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker added fuel to the fire when he said the disease has close connections with four “Gs” — gaon (village), garibi (poverty), gandagi (unhygienic conditions) and garmi (heat).
“This year has been the worst outbreak of the disease. Majority of the children brought to the hospitals suffered convulsions with high fever and died of hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar,” head of paediatric department at SKMCH Dr Gopal Shankar Sahni told the media on Tuesday.
Bihar chief secretary confirmed 103 deaths from the disease so far, adding that a team of experts had been constituted to study the social-economic conditions of the victims’ families. The state government also announced they would bear the medical expenses of children and directed doctors to be available in the hospital round the clock to treat patients.
“Ensure additional deployment of doctors at the hospitals so that they remain available for treatment round the clock,” the chief minister asked the SKMCH superintendent.
The opposition launched massive attacks on the government for failure to check the outbreak. “He [Nitish Kumar] has been in power for the past 14 years but nothing was done to check the disease claiming thousands of lives every year. Should not the chief minister held responsible for this?” asked former chief minister Rabri Devi. She also mocked the visits of the NDA ministers at the hospital describing it as mere eyewash.