Criminal neglect

Encephalitis has emerged as a major killer disease in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, with hundreds of people, especially children, succumbing to it in recent weeks. The toll is  disputed, with the figures for UP ranging from 300 to over 600. Over 80 deaths were reported from one region in Bihar and 40 from West Bengal. There are charges that the actual numbers are being suppressed by authorities. There is an estimate that at least 3,000 children have died from the disease in the last four years in UP.

Even when it did not kill, it left thousands of people with lasting physical damage. It is a seasonal disease which afflicts people during the monsoon and post-monsoon months and is caused by mosquitoes that proliferate during this period. The death toll keeps increasing every year.  The epicentre of the disease this year is Gorakhpur from where it has spread to other areas.

The Central government has constituted a GoM to deal with the situation but according to reports no serious action is taken on the ground to contain the epidemic. The human rights commission has issued a notice to the state and both the state and Central government have blamed each other for inaction. It is only through effective steps to check the spread of mosquitoes, limiting the chances of their being hosted by animals like pigs, improving sanitary and hygienic conditions and increasing public awareness about the causes and methods prevention of disease that it can be brought under control. 

Vaccination is effective against a particular strain of mosquitoes that causes the disease. But it has not been undertaken in many of the areas which became susceptible to the epidemic.

Hospitals in the affected areas are unable to attend to the large number of patients.  Many hospitals do not have basic facilities. Public health has not been a priority with most governments. Spending at the national level is less than 1 per cent of the GDP and the promise to increase it to 3 per cent has not been fulfilled. A good part of the amounts allocated for public health is lost in corruption and mismanagement.

As in the case of most other diseases preventive steps are best in the case of encephalitis. There is the need for a sustained and motivated campaign year after year but the authorities, both at the Centre and in the states, have been found wanting in that.

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