Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday said the encephalitis outbreak in the state was an “extremely unfortunate and serious issue”, and that an awareness campaign could help prevent cases of the disease, The Indian Express reported. The acute encephalitis syndrome has claimed over 150 lives in Bihar this year.

“What happened is extremely unfortunate, expressing grief is not enough,” Kumar told the Bihar Assembly. He said the government had held several meetings to discuss the matter at length, but experts and doctors had been unable to reach a consensus on what could be the reason for the disease.

“I held a meeting at AIIMS Patna in 2015 and various experts had different views as to what is the reason for it,” Kumar told the Assembly. “A report was even sent to the US to get an expert opinion on it but all had different views. At that time I had asked for a joint committee to be set up so that this is researched and studied properly.”

“Some of them thought that it is because of eating lichis, but it was not the only reason,” Kumar said. “But even an awareness campaign was run. In the past few years, fewer incidents occurred, but it cannot be said that no incidents took place. This time it was a big incident, so now experts in the country and outside and garnering information about it. Everybody is not aware.”

The Opposition parties created a ruckus in the state Assembly on Monday and demanded answers from the government over the lack of preparedness in dealing with the encephalitis outbreak, News18 reported. The Centre and the state government have received criticism due to the increasing number of deaths of children with encephalitis.

Kumar agreed that most hospitals in the state did not have adequate facilities to treat patients and said that the government was undertaking measures to ensure cure as well as prevention of the disease.

Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey said the death rate due to acute encephalitis syndrome had reduced over the past years, ANI reported. Nitish Kumar attributed the reduction in the number to awareness campaigns.

“According to the data we have, 720 were admitted till June 28, out of which 586 were cured, and 154 children died,” Pandey said. “Death rate reduced to 21%. According to data from 2011-’19, the death rate due to AES has reduced over the past few years.”

A team of doctors who had independently investigated the deaths of children due to suspected encephalitis in Muzaffarpur district had blamed “administrative failure” and the “state’s apathy towards people” for the tragedy.

On June 24, the Supreme Court had ordered the Centre, and the governments of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to submit affidavits on the steps taken, and facilities provided, to combat the outbreak of the disease.