Muzaffarpur in Bihar had witnessed hundreds of mysterious deaths every year till 2014. The unexplained neurological illness that had claimed mostly the lives of malnourished children has been decoded by a group of scientists from the US and India. After a joint investigation, they have concluded that the illness and deaths were triggered by litchi — a tropical fruit found in Muzaffarpur — when consumed on an empty stomach.
The mysterious illness characterised by acute seizures and changed mental status has been afflicting Muzaffarpur for more than two decades. Reports of the same illness also surfaced from Malda district of West Bengal.
As the temperature soared sky-high every year in mid-May, parents took their children to hospitals, although they had been healthy the night before. In the morning, the children would wake up crying and have seizures, often slipping into comas. The cases would be at their highest in June and have been reportedly happening since 1995.
The reason behind the deaths The researchers have found that presence of Methylene cyclopropyl-glycine (MCPG) and other chemicals in the litchi caused hypoglycemic encephalopathy when the blood sugar levels are low due to fasting or undernourishment. Earlier, encephalitis, heat stroke, infections carried by rats, bats or sand flies were suspected to be causing the deaths. The research has been published in the latest issue of The Lancet.
In 2013, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in India and the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) conducted laboratory investigations to find out about the potential infectious and noninfectious causes in 390 children who were admitted to two different hospitals in Muzaffarpur with certain neurological diseases. Out of the 390, 122 had died; 204 had low blood glucose during their admission. On questioning the parents, they said most of the children had consumed litchis and had missed the evening meal the previous day. The children who were most affected were those who stayed close to litchi orchards and consumed the fruits regularly on an empty stomach. They would spend the day eating the fruit and not eat dinner and other solid food.
While it is known that the seeds of litchi have MCPG, this study has shown that even the flesh has it as well.
“This study, to the best of our knowledge, is the largest investigation of the Muzaffarpur outbreak and the first comprehensive confirmation that this recurring outbreak illness is associated with litchi consumption and toxicity from both hypoglycin A and MPCG. We confirm the presence of MPCG and hypoglycin in litchis, and, for the first time, our data shows the metabolites of these toxins in human biological specimens, the biological impact of these toxins on human metabolism, and the modifying effect of the lack of an evening meal of the impact of these toxins,” scientists report in the Lancet study.
It must be remembered that litchis should not be consumed on an empty stomach or when one’s blood sugar levels are already low.
Even at 76, Pradip Burman, the zestful chairman of Mobius Foundation radiates a contagious enthusiasm when he is talking about sustainability. The environmental crusader, better known to many as the great-grandson of Dabur founder Dr S.K.Burman, has devoted substantial attention towards promoting the concept of sustainability in all aspects of life. He refuses to conform to the convenience and comfort in today’s world which ultimately adds on to the adverse effects of climate change.
Talking to The Logical Indian, Burman emphasised why sustainability as a concept is indispensable for us. “We ought to be aware of what lies ahead of us. Soon we will finish the oil, iron, tin, and coal, and our next generations will be left with nothing. Recycling, banning plastics, stop felling trees for paper… This should become a part of everyone’s lifestyle,” he urges.
Traditional wisdom and modern research
A mechanical engineer from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, Burman had always nurtured a keen interest in helping the society, as evident from his graduation project of designing a sonic aid for the visually challenged, which detected obstacles in the way using ultrasonic wave signals.
As an executive for the nature-centric company Dabur, Burman has always opted for natural alternatives to solve his everyday problems like taking Ayurvedic medicine to cure his Arthritis. He later launched the veterinary wing for Dabur – Ayurvet – which provides nature-friendly solutions for animal health care.
A patron of the ancient scientific wisdom of India, Burman always hailed the confluence of “traditional knowledge and modern research”, which he advocated as the Ayurvet motto.
As part of the CSR initiative of Dabur, Pradip Burman founded SUNDESH (Sustainable Development Society) which has been tirelessly working for last 25 years in remote villages for uplifting the rural communities in an environmentally sustainable way.
An advocate of sustainability
Burman believes that sustainability is the indispensable mantra for the world at present. Due to uncontrolled utilisation of the planet’s resources by human beings, the world today stands at a juncture of destabilisation. Today the human race has reached the pinnacle of progress but the advancement is happening in a very unsustainable manner.
Through energy-efficient use of everyday essentials like transport, communication, altered habits of diet, clothing and daily living, some crusaders of sustainability try to reduce their carbon footprint. Pradip Burman’s Mobius Foundation is one of the forerunners toward sustainability goals.
Mobius Foundation aims to change the sustainability dynamics
In 2015, Burman paved the way for the start of Mobius Foundation, focused on sustainability. Named after 18th-century German mathematician August Ferdinand Mobius, the famous Mobius strip has an important philosophical significance. The extraordinary shape symbolises balance and union.
Similar is the essence of Mobius Foundation which wishes to enhance the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” principle to a widespread basis in India, helping generations to come.
Founder Pradip Burman wishes to achieve notable development in education, population stabilisation and renewable energy projects.
A dream school in the making
At Coorg, Pradip Burman’s Mobius Foundation is constructing the World Environment School, Coorg (WESc) where the curriculum will surpass the boundaries of books and classrooms, with a special focus on hands-on learning in close collaboration with the environment. Amidst the pristine natural beauty of Coorg, the school will nurture young minds to grow up into future green leaders. As of now, the school will be open to teenagers, welcoming students from standards 6 to 12.
Needless to say, World Environment School will be the first-of-its-kind not only in India but also in entire South Asia. The school is expected to start from March 2020.
The school promises to nurture the responsible behaviour of citizens of our future.
The Sustainability Conference of 2019
In 2019, the Mobius Foundation has planned an international conference, on the lines of the celebrated earth summits over the past decade. The 2019 International Conference on Sustainability Education (ICSE 2019) aims to bring together environmental activists, practitioners of sustainable development as well as climate change experts to help develop a sustainability-focused curriculum.
It is surmised that the conference will give a platform to innovative concepts of Sustainability Education including an essential change in the existing education system ensuring a wholesome personal development for a student.
The Sustainability crusader
The Mobius founder strongly believes that it is high time to sprout sustainability awareness among a society drowning in consumerism and unknowingly doing irreparable harm to the planet, every second. The best way to achieve this goal is through education which is available to all. At present, the education system is predominantly career-oriented, making the learners a victim of materialism, and thus, their dreams are also outlined in those colours.
Living beyond the limits
When asked about his wish to attain the age of hundred, he strongly asserts that more than becoming a centurion, he wishes his life and work continue to better the society even in his absence. “I have lived my life. I wish that whatever I start before I go, will continue – for the betterment of my country,” says Mr Pradip Burman.
He is also a trustee of the Climate Reality Project – India (affiliated to Mr. Al Gore of the Climate Reality Project Foundation, USA). Climate Reality Project, India, has been actively engaged igniting the spark and spreading the message of climate change amongst educators, policy makers and civil society. The India branch looks after more than 500 trained Climate Leaders, and more than 900 volunteers spread all over the country.
In his journey, Pradip Burman has been a beacon of hope for millions, motivating many to join the movement for sustainability. We wish he continues his tireless efforts for promoting sustainability awareness and inspire generations to come.