Bihar is making news -- and not for a good cause. The state is currently in the line of fire of an encephalitis outbreak, and the death toll has only picked pace in the last two days.
Official data hovers around a number of 93-95 deaths due to Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV) and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) -- in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district, located in the northern part of the state. However, unofficial deaths due the disease are said to be over 100 as some children died in villages before being admitted to hospitals.
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Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, to this end, stressed the need for research on AES. "There should be research to identify the disease that is still not identified and for that research facility should be developed in Muzaffarpur," he said, after visiting the state-owned Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH).
Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV) is the most common cause of childhood viral encephalitis in the world. It causes an estimated 50,000 cases and 10,000 deaths annually.
JEV is endemic in the Gorakhpur division of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Muzaffarpur region of Bihar. The geographic features of the regions are conducive for the spread of JEV; an abundance of rice fields and a bowl-shaped landscape allow water to collect in pools.
High temperature and relative humidity add to the transfer of the virus.
UTTAR PRADESH REMAINS THE WORST HIT
Bihar's AES data summary looks more like a repeat of 2017 when a major JEV outbreak in Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur claimed the lives of many children.
Over 1,300 deaths -- linked to encephalitis -- in the state-run BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur were reported in 2017.
Back then, government officials went door-to-door in 38 districts affected by the disease to spread awareness and ensure timely vaccination. The programme ended on April 16.
Following this, UNICEF's India chapter, on April 25, 2018, congratulated Uttar Pradesh for immunising every child against JEV.
Uttar Pradesh does carry the largest AES burden in India and has succumbed to repeated outbreaks.
The virus was first detected in the state in 1978, clocking over 6,000 deaths in the years to come.
Another major outbreak of AES/JE was recorded in Gorakhpur between July and November 2005. According to a report, 5,737 persons were affected in seven districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh, and 1,344 persons died.
According to a separate research, more than 2,000 AES cases are admitted to BRD hospital each year with 20-25 per cent mortality rate. The same research indicated that out of those discharged only 12.3 per cent made a full recovery.
The report added that out of the survivours, many develop neurological sequel after discharge.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
In 2017, Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government launched Action Plan 2018 in collaboration of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef for containing AES.
A massive vaccination drive and a sanitation campaign were launched.
By virtue of this rampant drive, cases of AES dropped by about two-thirds in 2018 -- as compared to 2017.
What seems to have worked for Uttar Pradesh boded well for Bihar too -- but till last year.
The sudden spike in this year's death toll goes to show how Bihar needs an immediate plan to deal with the rising number of deaths due to AES and JEV.
The Twitter-verse too has since been claiming that Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government looks out of sorts when it comes to following a definite plan to curtail the virus.
The most Nitish Kumar can do at the moment is take a cue from 2017's Uttar Pradesh government and begin the work from the grassroot level.