Muzaffarpur, June 18
Public grief gave way to outrage here on Tuesday when angry people raised slogans as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar held a meeting with officials to take stock of the acute encephalitis syndrome outbreak, which has claimed the lives of over 100 children.
The death toll has climbed to 105 with both the SKMCH hospital and the privately owned Kejriwal hospital reporting one casualty during the night, the district administration said.
Kumar, who had been away in New Delhi since Saturday, returned to the state capital on Monday evening and held an emergency review meeting on the AES situation with officials.
After the meeting, the government swung into action, declaring it would bear the expenses for treatment of those found with the syndrome even if it took place at private hospitals.
Instructions were also issued for equipping primary health centres with necessary facilities so that children with symptoms of AES in remote areas could be provided with medical attention closer home since, in several cases, the time involved in travelling to the district headquarters and seeking admission to hospitals had led to worsening of the condition of patients.
On Tuesday morning, Kumar rushed to the SKMCH hospital in Muzaffarpur, where more than 300 children have been admitted with complaints of AES since June 1. Close to 90 of them have died.
The Chief Minister, who was flanked by his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi and cabinet colleague and local MLA Suresh Sharma, went to the ICU inside the hospital to take stock of the situation before holding an impromptu review meeting with hospital authorities and other health department officials.
In the meantime, hordes of people gathered outside the hospital and started shouting slogans like “Nitish Kumar go back”, angry over the Chief Minister choosing to visit the city only after the number of casualties had crossed the three-digit mark.
Speaking to journalists, they pointed out to a water tanker. “This is today’s development. Things are being spruced up so that it makes a favourable impression on the Chief Minister. Had the CM visited earlier, it would have made the people concerned pull up their socks and many lives could have been saved,” one of them said.
A team of Union health department officials visited the district over the weekend and clarified that AES was an umbrella of symptoms, unlike Japanese Encephalitis, which was a viral infection.
The symptoms include high fever, convulsions and extremely low level of sugar in the blood. Among the factors said to trigger the syndrome are malnutrition.
Moreover, the litchi grown in Muzaffarpur is said to contain a toxin, which can cause a drop in blood sugar levels if consumed by a malnourished child. — PTI
Central body to monitor situation
"The Centre will set up a permanent multi-disciplinary group of experts to monitor and formulate measures to be taken up in the event of such an outbreak in future." Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister
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