Bihar: 103 Deaths In Muzaffarpur District Alone; Human Rights Commission Issues Notice To Health Ministry & Bihar Govt
In the on-going case of Encephalitis outbreak in Bihar, an official release from the Muzaffarpur district administration has revealed that about 103 children have died in Muzaffarpur and adjoining areas of North Bihar. As per the authorities, most of these deaths have happened due to hypoglycemia.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on June 17 issued notices to the Union Health Ministry and Bihar government. NHRC pointed out that the deaths of children in such a large number indicate towards a “possible flaw” in the proper implementation of the vaccination and awareness programmes.
Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has announced that 100-bedded paediatric ICUs will be set up in Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital. Additionally, a 10-bedded facility will be set up in the adjoining districts to give ‘better and exclusive treatment’. Five virological laboratories will be set up across districts in Bihar.
Increasing Death Toll
Notably, at least two children died on June 16 in Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital at Muzaffarpur, while the Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan accompanied by the Minister of State Ashwani Kumar Choubey and Bihar Health Minister Mangal Panday was on a stock-taking visit. In fact, a five-year-old girl right in front of the health minister in the Intensive Care Unit.
The Union Minister was shown black flags at Patna and Muzaffarpur against the alleged negligence in the treatment of children by a Jan Adhikar political party.
“We are extremely shocked at the situation here. We have taken every effort to save the lives of diagnosed children. It has now become necessary to set up well-equipped virology labs in five districts to ensure detection and prevention of the disease. One virology laboratory will start functioning in Muzaffarpur within a year,” Dr Harsh Vardhan said while talking to reporters. He added that there was a need for starting research on AES.
The Union Minister also said that a team of doctors from Norway had arrived to ascertain the cause behind the deaths of children, while blood samples have been sent to a laboratory in Pune.
Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey said: “We are trying everything and anything that can save children’s lives. Everything is being made available from medicines to doctors. We have even called doctors and nurses from AIIMS in Patna.”
“There is a protocol regarding what kind of medicines and facilities should be given and we are doing the same. We are monitoring things regularly and trying to save our children,” Pandey added.
The ground situation at the hospital is alarming. Many of the children were squatting on the floor as the availability of beds is less than the number of patients approaching there for treatment. The medical staff is also reportedly short of the strength required to meet the emergency situation.
Meanwhile, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh to the families of the children who died of the disease. The CM has also instructed the Health Department, district officials and doctors to take all possible measures to tackle the spread of disease.
Regular Outbreak Of The Disease
According to media reports in 2014 the number of AES cases reported was 1,028 and in 2015 it was 390. Over the next two years the numbers dipped only one was reported in 2016 and nine in 2017. Around 117 children in 2014, 89 children in 2012, 35 children in 2013, 15 in 2015, 6 in 2016 and 12 in 2017-18 reportedly died due to the disease.
The outbreak of the disease has been a regular occurrence in Muzaffarpur district and the areas around it for the past several years yet so far no effective treatment and reasons for its spread has been found out.
Encephalitis is a viral disease, which causes mild flu-like symptoms such as high fever, convulsions and headaches.
Connection Between Lychee Cultivation & Outbreak?
In Bihar, Muzaffarpur district has seen the largest number of the death toll. Muzaffarpur is called the ‘Lychee bowl of India’, given the extensive cultivation there.
The victims of this outbreak have largely been children from poorer households. A 2017 study published in reputed The Lancet linked the occurrence of encephalitis to the consumption of Lychee. As per the researchers, children from these households often consume widely available lychee on empty stomach. Lack of food combined with toxins hypoglycin A and methylenecyclopropylglycine (MCPG) present in lychee seeds was the cause behind the illness.
However, a few medical practitioners have rejected the link between the two. They argue that if consuming lychee were the cause, it would affect other regions which cultivate this fruit. Many believe that high humidity and temperature are the cause behind its outbreak. Poor healthcare services and inadequate arrangements at hospitals further worsen the situation.