Bihar, which is one of the poorest states of India and a home to 100 million people is once again gripped by a deadly disease, Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), which has caused deaths of more than 100 children in the state. Every passing day brings more fear as the death toll is ascending drastically.
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So far, 85 children have died in the state’s biggest government run hospital, Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) and 18 others at Kejriwal Hospital in the last 24 days, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI). Locals claim the actual toll could be higher as many from the remote villages fail to make it to Muzaffarpur hospitals. While children are dying since last month, the death toll has risen rapidly in the last week.
Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, has promised to give 4 lakh each to the families who have lost their children due to AES. He has also given directions to the health department, district administration and doctors to take necessary measures. However, the government took 5 days and 50 deaths to realize the seriousness of the issue.
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After which, Bihar’s health minister, Mangal Pandey, reached SKMCH in Muzaffarpur to take stock of the situation. The minister was lashed at, on social media, for being insensitive during the meeting called to discuss the hazards AES has caused to the state. “How many wickets have fallen so far?” asked Pandey during the meeting on June 16 to enquire about the India – Pakistan world cup match that held the same day.
#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
Another insensitive behaviour was reported when Ashwini Kumar Chaubey faced flak for allegedly sleeping during a press conference meant to address the government’s arrangements to face AES. Dr. Harsh Vardhan, while was seen addressing reporters during the press conference, Chaubey was seen dozing off in many videos surfacing online. Chaubey, however, refused the allegations of him sleeping during the press conference and claimed that he was, rather, pensive during that moment. “Main manan chintan bhi karta hu na, main so nahin raha tha, (I was pensive, I wasn’t sleeping),” claimed Chaubey while talking to reporters, quoted ANI.
#WATCH MoS Health and Family Welfare, Ashwini Kumar Choubey on reports of him sleeping during a media briefing of Union Health Minister on Bihar AES deaths: Main manan chintan bhi karta hoon na, main so nahi raha tha. pic.twitter.com/i9p8e37cJJ
— ANI (@ANI) June 17, 2019
Meanwhile, CM Nitish Kumar also had to face the rage of the parents and relatives of the victims when the CM visited the SKMCH on June 18. “Nitish Kumar haay haay, Nitish Kumar murdabad” chanted people outside the hospital to mark their protest, showed TV reports. The sloganeers complained that the CM didn’t even ask them about their hardships and the facilities at the hospital.
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A case has been reportedly been filed against Dr. Harsh Vardhan and Mangal Pandey for allegedly being negligent towards the deaths of 82 children in Bihar. A social activist, Tamanna Hashmi, filed the case against Vardhan and Pandey in the Muzaffarpur Chief Judicial Magistrate’s (CJM) court on June 17. The court has marked the case for hearing on June 24.
On the other hand, a high level meeting was organized on this issue. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Kumar Chaubey, Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey, besides Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan, Joint Secretary – Health & Family Welfare Lav Agarwal joined the meeting.
It was decided in this meeting that in addition to the ways to deal with this disease, emphasis should be made on creating awareness, proper arrangements should be made for the treatment in the Primary Health Centers and activation of Aasha workers to inform people about the disease.
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The lives of these children could have been saved if the government would have taken these steps in advance considering the catastrophic damage that AES caused in the past. In 2014 when similar outbreak took away the lives of 379 children, the then Union Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, had announced 100 bed super speciality facility in SKMCH which is still incomplete. A similar mendacious promise was heard from him this time as well in his press conference held on June 17, as per media reports.
Another lapse was weak awareness program. Since reason behind Encephalitis remains a mystery, doctors only provide symptomatic treatment. Awareness during May-July when the temperature in the state reaches it’s peak was not carried out this year as officials were busy in general elections. Ashwini Kumar Chaubey in his statement said that the officers were busy during the elections. Because of this, the awareness program could not be run on the prevention of this disease and the treatment of sick children, due to which the disease is wreaking havoc in the state.
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Listening to such incident at this time when India is technologically efficient is heart breaking for millions. If the government had taken necessary steps in time, the families, the schools and the parents would have been aware of the symptoms and causes. Is winning election more important than dying children? Who is responsible for the deaths of these children then?