EXCLUSIVE: Will put heart, soul into fighting Bihar encephalitis outbreak, says Health Minister Harsh Vardhan

Source:-indiatoday.in

In an exclusive interview with Rajdeep Sardesai, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan admitted that a lot needs to be done to combat the encephalitis outbreak in Bihar. He, however, assured that he is personally monitoring the situation in the state even as the death toll from encephalitis deaths reached 128 in Muzaffarpur.

As the death toll in the encephalitis outbreak in Bihar continues to rise, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan admitted that many improvements need to be made to India’s health system.

In an exclusive interview with Rajdeep Sardesai, Harsh Vardhan said, “There is certainly a need for a lot of improvement in the health system of the country. In the past five years, we have been trying to do our best to systematically strengthen the system in the country but I think there is a lot to be done.”

The death toll due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) rose to 128 in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district on Wednesday. Amid growing criticism over governmental inaction, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had issued directions for immediately sending a high-level team to Muzaffarpur to set up a state-of-the-art multi-disciplinary research centre in the wake of these deaths.

Harsh Vardhan also said five virological labs will be set up in different districts in the state. The districts can be decided in consultation with the state government and can be funded through the National Health Mission (NHM), he said.

In one of the decisions taken during his visit, Vardhan instructed to set up a 100-bed paediatric ICU at SKMCH. Also, in the adjoining districts, 10-bed paediatric ICUs will be set up with support from the Centre, so that such cases can be given better and exclusive treatment and there is no unnecessary load on the facilities available at Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur.

He had made similar suggestions when the Narendra Modi government first came to power in 2014.

When asked about why the Modi government failed to deliver on its 2014 promises, the health minister give a list of work that was in progress. “Let me tell you, super speciality building in the college will be ready by year-end. It will be dedicated to people of Muzaffarpur and those from adjoining districts. I myself visited the site this weekend. As far as the pediatric ICU is concerned, I had suggested there should be exclusive pediatric ICU separate from the main hospital setup but they created ICU within the hospital.”

WATCH FULL INTERVIEW WITH DR HARSH VARDHAN HERE:

Harsh Vardhan said his 2014 suggestions were not fully implemented as he was health minister for only four-five months then. The Union minister agreed things need to be improved further, “We need to ensure 100 per cent immunisation of children, we are proactively bringing many children into the net of immunisation but India being a large country we need to go ahead at a fast manner. You have seen the initial impact of Ayushmann Bharat. We have the ambitious plan to build 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres at primary level, out of which 18,000 have been created.”

However, Harsh Vardhan admitted that expenditure on health in India needs to increase. “There is an ambitious plan to increase the health budget to 2.5 per cent (from the current 1.5 per cent) of the total Union budget. Personally, as a doctor, I wish I could get much more,” said Harsh Vardhan.

The spread of encephalitis in Bihar has been attributed to malnutrition. Unripe litchi fruit contains a high concentration of the toxin called MCPG which triggers hypoglycemia if consumed by a child with a malnourished body. Therein lies the answer to the question: why only the poorest of the poor and mostly those living in Muzaffarpur and adjoining districts are suffering from the disease.

Harsh Vardhan said that the Modi government has diagnosed the problems in the system and hopes to eradicate them by 2022. “When we took over in 2014, under the leadership of PM Modi we tried to diagnose each and every problem in the country. A lot has been done and a lot needs to be done and we are very hopeful that in the new India that we are talking about in 2022, you will see a lot of perceptible and measurable changes in the country,” said Harsh Vardhan.

However, the minister was not able to give a clear answer on whether the NDA government in Bihar or CM Nitish Kumar should be held accountable for the encephalitis outbreak. “You have to appreciate that this disease has not been eradicated anywhere in the world. It is endemic to this part of the country. This is not happening only here,” he said.

When questioned on how the UP government had managed to control the encephalitis outbreak in the state but Bihar had failed, Harsh Vardhan said that he was doing his best to improve the situation and was monitoring it closely. “I can only tell you that we are trying to do our best. I have sent one of my joint secretaries there [to Muzaffarpur], have sent all possible help — paediatricians, virologists, epidemiologists. From our side, we have ensured that whatever gap exists is filled. I was only four-five days old in this ministry, but I sent a high-powered team there. Every day I am monitoring things on an hourly basis and the teams are reporting to me directly.”

Finally, when asked if he could give a guarantee that such a grim scenario would not be seen in Bihar next year, Harsh Vardhan said, “I can only give you one guarantee that Dr Harsh Vardhan will personally monitor the implementation of all the suggestions that he gave in 2019. I will do my best and I will put my heart and soul into it.”

Private schools still a pipe dream for poor in Bihar

Source: hindustantimes.com

A decade after Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, which mandated that 25% of seats in private schools be reserved for the poor children, Bihar presents a sorry picture in terms of the implementation of the landmark law, as revealed in a reply from state government under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

For instance, in Arwal district, just 73 poor children got admission in private schools in 2016-17 while Sheohar fared marginally better with 213 such admissions.

Far more shocking has been the performance in Patna district. Hardly 936 poor children got admission in private schools in 2016-17. In Nalanda, the home district of chief minister Nitish Kumar, the figure stood at 1,532.

Darbhanga fared the best, with 4,329 poor children being admitted into private schools during 2016-17. Nawada came second with 4,300.

So far a the total number the poor children who got enrolled in private schools between 2011-12 and 2016-17 is concerned, Arwal again remained at the bottom with only 258 such admissions, followed by Shiekhpura (995).

Muzaffarpur fared the best in this five-year period, during which 7,782 poor children got admissions in private schools. Darbhanga (7,218), Nalanda (6,328) and Nawada (6,320) were also among the better off district in terms of education for poor children.

In Patna district, hardly 2,793 poor children were admitted into private schools during the five-year period.

“While the situation in Arwal is depressing, far more surprising is the performance of the state capital where the number of private schools is be very high,” said Shivprasad Rai, the RTI activist who had sought the information.

“Education department has also informed me that some amount, to be made to schools for such students, is due and will be cleared soon. Lapses seem to be at various levels,” he said.

Asked why he did not get the date for the last two years, Rai said, “I had asked for latest data as well, but the education department perhaps did not want to share the same. Even for this incomplete information, I had to struggle a lot. I had sought the information in March, but there was no response. In May, I moved the appellate authority and managed to procure the limited details.”

Giriwar Dayal Singh, additional secretary, education department, was not available to comment.

Five top districts Number of poor children enrolled in private school during 2016-17

*Darbhanga 4,329

*Nawada 4,300

*Saharsa 2,610

*Rohtas 2010

*Gopalganj 1,870

Five districts from the bottom poor children enrolled in private school during 2016-17

* Arwal 73

*Sheohar 213

* Gaya 232

*Khagaria 293

*Kishanganj 573

Five top districts poor children enrolled in private school from 2011-12 to 2016-17

* Muzaffarpur 7,782

* Darbhanga 7,218

* Nalanda 6,328

*Nawada 6,320

*Saharsa 4,918

Five districts from the bottom poor children enrolled in private school during 2016-17

* Arwal 258

* Shiekhpura 995

* Sheohar 1,003

*Khagaria 1070

* Lakhisarai, 1,342

(Source: Education department)

Over 50 Children Have Died of Suspected Japanese Encephalitis in Bihar

Source: newsclick.in

Patna: In the last nine days, several children have died in North Bihar of suspected Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). On Monday alone, about 20 children reportedly died, while three deaths were reported early Tuesday in Muzaffarpur town hospitals. As per reports, five five children died in two villages — Harvanshpur Paschim and Khirkhaua under Bhagwanpur police station in Vaishali district — in last the 24 hours due to symptoms similar to AES after being admitted to hospital.

As helpless parents look on, dozens of children are still battling for their lives with symptoms similar to AES and are undergoing treatment at two hospitals in Muzaffarpur. So far, the disease has already claimed the lives of 53 children, but the state government is playing these deaths down by claiming that these were due to hypoglycaemia.

In Muzaffarpur, the state government-owned Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) and private Kejriwal Hospital, where most of deaths took, have names and address of the victims. But state government, particularly the health department, is not prepared to accept this reality.

Meanwhile, Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey has denied that these deaths were due to AES. Pandey, a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, said that only 11 children had died since June 2 and most of the deaths were due to hypoglycaemia, adding that only one child died due to Japanese encephalitis. “There is a situation of misconception in connection with deaths of children in Muzaffarpur. We have got information of deaths due to hypoglycaemia, except one death due to JE,” he was reported as saying.

AES cases have surfaced in Bihar in such a large number after a gap of three years. Last year, a total 40 cases of AES were reported in which seven deaths occurred.

But this year, the situation is alarming, said sources. This can be gauged from the fact that the two paediatric intensive care units at SKMCH are full and the hospital authorities were forced to open a third PICU to accommodate fresh cases. Ironically, with heavy rush of seriously ill children on Monday, there were no bed available to admit new suspected AES cases in the PICU the hospital and officials had to get the general ICU vacated by shifting patients to other wards.

“We have been admitting seriously ill children in PICU and the general ICU to provide treatment in view of the situation and regular arrival of new patients” SKMCH’s chief medical officer, S P Singh, said.

SKMCH superintendent Sunil Kumar Shahi said “It took us by surprise. We hardly expected such a bounce back this year”.

Helpless parents, after failing to get their seriously ill children admitted in SKMCH, are left with no option but to rush to privately run Kejriwal Hospital in Muzaffarpur.

Most of the children with suspected AES belonging to the rural poor section (dalit, other backward classes and extremely backward classes) of the population in Muzaffarpur and the neighbouring districts of Vaishali, Sitamarhi, Samastipur, Sheohar, East and West Champaran.

Locally known as Chamki Bukhar or Mastishk Bukhar, AES is widely seen as a deadly disease for children in flood-prone North Bihar districts. While the cause of deaths of children may be AES or any other, Sanjay Kumar, the principal secretary in the health department, reiterated that the deaths this year had occurred due to hypoglycaemia, resulting from high heat and humidity.

Kumar explained that when children play in the open under the scorching sun, it leads to dehydration and affects their intake of food and water, leading to hypoglycaemia.

According to him, Bihar had reported 34 cases of hypoglycaemia, resulting in 10 deaths till date this year, while one death was due to dyselectrolytemia (electrolyte imbalance).

However, with increasing cases of suspected AES, the state government has introduced a verbal autopsy form to fix responsibility for any lapses in treatment and referral. “We have a standard operating procedure for treatment of AES”, he added.

The health department has also issued an advisory urging parents to prevent their children from playing in the open under the sun at a time when the temperature was hovering between 42 to 43 degrees Celsius.

Interestingly, contrary to the denial of children deaths due to AES by a top health department officer, chief minister Nitish Kumar on Monday at a press conference, in reply to question on child deaths due to AES in Muzaffarpur, said the health department had been keeping a close watch on the situation. “Ahead of the rains (monsoon) ,every year this disease (yeh bimari) creates havoc. It is a matter of concern that every year children are dying due to it”, he said.

The chief minister said the health department had taken steps to contain the disease and was sensitising the people about measures to prevent it.

According to doctors, AES is a severe stage of encephalitis characterised by inflammation of the brain. The disease is transmitted through mosquito bites, leading to infection that causes high fever.

“Every year, encephalitis hits Muzaffarpur, Gaya and other neighbouring districts in May or June. But this year it seems to have affected a large number of children,” a health department official said.

Suspected outbreak of encephalitis claims lives of 21 children in Patna this year

Source: newindianexpress.com

PATNA: The outbreak of suspected encephalitis in North Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and its some adjoining districts included Vaishali has reportedly claimed the lives of around 21 children from January to May 9. As many as 18 children, diagnosed with the syndrome of encephalitis, have been admitted in Muzaffarpur based SKMCH and other private clinics.

The outbreak has gone beyond the Muzaffarpur and many children belonging to extremely poor families, have also been diagnosed with the syndrome of acute encephalitis  in neighbouring Vaishali, Sheohar, East and West Champaran districts. On Sunday alone, 4 new suspected cases of encephalitis diagnosed with four children were brought and admitted at SKMCH in Muzaffarpur.

“This time again after a gap of the last three years, the outbreak of syndrome of encephalitis has been reported. It occurs only when heat coupled with extreme humidity rises to an extreme level. It is contained as soon s Monsoon arrives”, Dr M Singh said, adding that sudden loss in the level of sugar in the body leads to collapse of life support functioning in the body of a minor.

Meanwhile, Reena Devi of Muzaffarpur said her 6-year-old son Raghu developed a symptom of high fever with breathing problem suddenly after returning from a nearby mango orchard in Motipur.

“Now, he has been admitted at SKMCH  under critical condition”, she said, adding that fearing further casualties in many remote areas of Muzaffarpur like Saraiya, Sherpur and others, many families have left the villages.

On Saturday, Prince Kumar of Vaishali and Chanda Kumari of Sheohar died while on Friday and other past few days, Madhu Kumari, Pawan Kumar, Sonu Kumar and many other minors had died in Muzaffarpur and other private clinics during treatments.

State health minister Mangal Panday claimed that all efforts are on to save the lives of children, who are being diagnosed with symptoms of encephalitis. Dr S K Shahi, superintendent of SKMCH, told the media that all arrangements have been made to check the outbreak of this disease.

He admitted that nearly 38 kids with symptoms of encephalitis were admitted between January and June this year. According to Muzaffarpur civil surgeon Dr SP Singh, a team of health department had recently visited the SKMCH and held a high-level meeting with doctors on the outbreak.