Thousands die from Encephalitis in UP, Bihar; No remedy on cards

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Encephalitis
Lucknow, June 24: Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, during his visit to Bihar's Muzzafarpur district, said that he is coordinating with State authorities and health officials to deal with the cases of rising number of deaths due to encephalitis. Commonly known as brain fever, the epidemic has so far claimed 148 lives, mainly kids, alone in the district this year.

During his two-day visit in the district, the Union Health Minister announced a slew of measures to try and tackle the disease, including a 100-bed paediatric ICU and two research centres at Muzaffarpur and neighbouring Darbhanga.

"It will be a big challenge for both State and Central Government to deal with encephalitis," Vardhan told media persons.

Encephalitis is a water-borne disease - transmitted by mosquitoes - causes high fever, inflammation of the brain, body ache, stiffness of limbs to meningitis and coma.

Also prevalent in the region is Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, which is a severe case of encephalitis characterised by inflammation of the brain. A very high death rate of around 26 per cent has made AES more alarming and the doctors are keeping their fingers crossed. The worse of all is that the reason behind the syndrome is yet unknown.

"We are doing our best and praying for rains to lash Muzaffarpur. So far there have been no rains here. Past experience shows AES incidence declines rapidly once the monsoon rains start," Bhagalpur Civil Surgeon Dr Uday Shankar Chaudhary told sources.

Encephalitis strikes 135 districts across 17 States every year but more than 70 per cent of these cases are reported from Uttar Pradesh, mainly Gorakhpur. In the year 2013, more than 350 children lost their lives in the eastern UP district alone.

In the last 33 years, 50,000 people, mostly kids, have died in UP alone. But the authorities are still clueless about its real cause and the only vaccine available is Japanese Encephalitis, which accounts for only 10 to 12 per cent cases.

In 2011, the then Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had visited Gorakhpur and funds worth Rs 4,000 crore were sanctioned by the Central Government. Neither State nor Centre has come up with a concrete plan to curb this epidemic. A GoM and many promises later, little seems to be happening on the ground to tackle the issue.

There's also a shortage of doctors and hospital beds in the region, which adds up to the woes of the victims and their families. Since, most of the patients hit by this disease are kids, special paediatric ICU is required but most of the hospitals lack this facility.

Politicians during poll campaigns have constantly raised this issue to receive the dividends but soon fizzle out from their political agenda. But, going with the track record of new Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who is responsible for making India polio-free, one sees a ray of hope that he will take stringent steps to find a viable solution to this problem.

Vardhan's announcement for setting up a virology centre in Bihar on the lines of the National Institute of Virology in Pune could be seen as a positive move towards the same.

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