Plans afoot to tackle acute encephalitis

Govt may announce new schemes to tackle the disease soon

With the Centre agreeing to improve the overall living conditions in 34 Uttar Pradesh districts, it may announce a few new schemes on improving the sanitary conditions and availability of clear drinking water in the poll-bound state besides strengthening the health infrastructure and expanding the vaccination camps.

The GoM comprising Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jairam Ramesh, Mukul Wasnik, Kamal Nath and Krishna Tirath discussed the planned schemes though Nath was absent.

Since 2005, acute encephalitis syndrome has been a major public health threat in Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. The disease now afflicts almost one-fifth of the country – 135 districts – to be exact. In the last seven years, it affected more than 33000 people and killed in excess of 6300. The causative agent still remains unidentified after years of research.

Even though an untested Chinese vaccine against Japanese encephalitis was hurriedly introduced by then health minister Anbumani Ramadoss, following the first major outbreak in 2005 that affected 6727 children and killed 1682, its efficacy remains questionable. The Union health ministry, however, stands by it.

The disease primarily affects children below 15 years, of which 25 per cent die. Among the survivors about 30-40 per cent suffer from physical and mental impairment. As much as 70-75 per cent of disease burden lies in Uttar Pradesh.

According to the new multi-pronged strategy being conceived by the Central government, the ministry of drinking water supply and sanitation is  to provide safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities in the affected and high risk districts.

It will replace shallow hand pumps in Acute Encephalitis Syndrome affected districts as the virus spreads through contaminated water.

While the ministry of rural development has to find out alternative means of livelihoodfor pig-rearing population, the ministry of social justice and empowerment would conduct a systematic survey to estimate disability burden, establish rehabilitation units at district level and set up special schools for mentally challenged children in Japanese Encephalitis (JE) /Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES)  affected areas.

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