The Bihar government has told the Supreme Court that its health infrastructure is inadequate to deal with a crisis such as the breakout of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, NDTV reported on Tuesday. In an affidavit submitted to the top court, the government said state-run hospitals were understaffed at every level. The Nitish Kumar-led government was responding to a notice from the court after the deaths of more than 150 people in the state.

Hospitals in Bihar are understaffed at every level – from doctors and nurses to lab technicians and pharmacists – the government said in its affidavit. It submitted a report, according to which only 43% of the sanctioned strength of doctors, 29% of nurses and 28% of lab technicians are available in hospitals.

The government said that despite these challenges steps were taken to prevent the spread of the disease. It claimed that the fatality rate had dropped to 19%. Essential drugs were made available to patients and supplementary nutrition was being given to children in anganwadis, the government added.

The Centre, in its affidavit, said five virology laboratories were set up in different districts of the state, ANI reported. It added that a 10-bed Pediatric Intensive Care Units would be set up throughout the state while a 100-bed Pediatric ICU would be established at Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur district.

On Monday, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the encephalitis outbreak was an “extremely unfortunate and serious issue”, and an awareness campaign could help prevent cases. Kumar has come under fire from Opposition parties for his government’s lack of preparedness in dealing with the spread of the disease. The toll in Muzaffarpur district, where people with the syndrome are being treated in two hospitals, increased to 137 on Wednesday, reported ANI.

According to a NITI Aayog report released last week, Bihar was among the worst performing states in the health sector. The report, titled “Healthy States, Progressive India”, measured the health index through various indicators such as child mortality rates, sex ratios at birth, immunisation rates, proportion of people living with HIV/AIDS, notification of tuberculosis and health care facilities. The reference years for most indicators were 2017 or 2018, and the base years to gauge improvement were between one and three years before the reference year.

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