Data on deaths of children compiled by the Uttar Pradesh government show a sharp drop in casualty figures in the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur this year compared to those in the last three years.
According to the data compiled by the UP health department, made available to PTI, 1,317 children had died in the state-run facility so far this year.
The number of deaths stood at 5,850 in 2014, 6,917 in 2015 and 6,121 in 2016, the department data said, adding that the average daily deaths translating to 16 in 2014, 19 in 2015 and 17 in 2016 -- as against 5.3 a day till August this year.
"This (death figure) is much lower than that in the previous years," Health Minister Sidharth Nath Singh said.
Congress spokesperson Ashok Singh had charged the Uttar Pradesh government with failing to check the deaths in the BRD medical college.
"The toll is alarmingly high and the government has failed to check the casualties," he had said.
Countering him, the health minister said "good work" was being done by the Yogi Adityanath government in the state. "The reason (for the fall in death figures) is the good work done in the last five months. We have strengthened encephalitis treatment centres and taken various effective measures to check the dreaded disease so that more patients are treated at community health centre levels and do not just rush to the BRD medical college," Singh said.
According to BRD medical college records, 152 children died in January this year, 122 in February, 159 in March, 123 in April, 139 in May, 137 in June, 128 in July and 325 in August. Taking into account 32 deaths in the first two days of September, the total came to 1,317.
A total of 51,018 children were admitted to the hospital in 2014, 61,295 in 2015 and 60,891 in 2016, according to the data put together by the department and its partner, PATH Foundation, a nonprofit organisation. There were no admission figures for this year.
Health department sources said till August 31, admissions in district hospitals and encephalitis treatment centres had gone up to 62 per cent as compared to BRD hospital.
"We have to bring this up to at least 80 per cent. We are on the right path," an official said.
Because of seasonal illnesses, August usually saw a rise in the number of children being admitted to the medical college which caters to Gorakhpur and adjoining districts in Uttar Pradesh, with patients also coming from neighbouring Bihar and Nepal.
The Numbers of deaths of children in August in 2016, 2015 and 2014 were 587, 668 and 567 respectively, as against 324 last month, according to the data.
"During 2017, larvicidal spraying and fogging were undertaken in 529 villages/urban areas in seven endemic districts of Gorakhpur and Basti division where community meetings and awareness programmes for health workers are being carried out," Singh said while explaining the drop in the casualty figure this year.
The Health Minister said, "The combat against Japanese Encephalitis (JE)/Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) continues to be a priority for the state government and every effort is being made to ensure proper treatment and management of cases by taking preventive initiatives to educate and involve the community in our fight against these diseases."
He said a special vaccination campaign was carried out in 38 endemic districts from June 29 to July 15 this year covering 92 lakh children in the 1-15 year age bracket.
When contacted, Congress spokesperson Singh expressed doubts over the figures, while Samajwadi Party leader and MLC Rajpal Kashyap dismissed the data.
"The government is trying to run away from its responsibilities of providing better health care facilities," Kashyap said.