The toll from suspected Acute Encephalitis Syndrome reached 93 in Bihar on Sunday, even as Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan visited Muzaffarpur, one of the worst-affected towns in Bihar, NDTV reported. Vardhan faced protests from families of patients, especially at Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital.
People demonstrated against the inadequate facilities at the hospital and alleged negligence on the part of hospital staff. They waved black flags at Vardhan’s convoy. As many as 79 children have died at the facility, ANI reported.
Vardhan met multi-disciplinary teams deployed to control the outbreak. “I have personally talked to every concerned individual about this issue,” he said following a state-level review meeting. “I have talked to every official and every minister to ensure that everything is being done to fight this disease.”
A man whose brother has been admitted to the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital took off his shirt and protested against visits by political leaders. “Why do these politicians come here if they do not want to listen or care about us?” ANI quoted him as saying. “We chose them and made them leaders. They are all thieves. Our children are dying.”
He alleged that the management of the hospital was not listening to the patients. “I’d rather prefer dying,” he said.
Vardhan announced the construction of a 100-bed paediatric ward at the hospital, The Indian Express reported. He also said that a branch of Patna’s virology laboratory will be opened at the medical facility. All primary health care centres in Muzaffarpur will have 10-bed children’s wards, the minister said.
“Since most deaths are reported because of low blood sugar levels, all PHCs would also have glucometers,” he added.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had on Sunday announced an ex-gratia package of Rs 4 lakh each to families of the children who died. He had also instructed the health department, district administration and doctors to take necessary measures to fight the disease. The state health department had cited hypoglycaemia, a condition caused by very low level of blood sugar and electrolyte imbalance, as the main reason for the deaths.
The symptoms of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, which causes fatal inflammation of the brain, include fever, mental confusion, disorientation, delirium, or coma, and onset of seizures. The Japanese encephalitis virus is the most common cause of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome in the country, causing 5% to 35% of the cases. But the syndrome is also caused by scrub typhus, dengue, mumps, measles, and Nipah and Zika viruses. However, the cause remains clinically unidentified in several cases.