Countering encephalitis needs national policy and political will

Countering encephalitis needs national policy and political will
Countering encephalitis needs national policy and political will
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Biswajeet Banerjee | The News Minute | July 5, 2014 | 10:33 am IST

The dreaded encephalitis has shown a 200 per cent rise in last four years, thus raising a big question. As hundreds of children die almost every year from this preventable disease, why is the government shying away from calling it a national disaster? Why doesn’t the union government formulate a national medical policy to save children from this fatal disease?

The disease has been a serial killer for the last 36 years. The death rate, 2 to 3 years ago, used to range between 16 to 20 percent. Of late, it has taken a dangerous turn. The mortality rate rose to 29 percent in 2013 and above 36 percent in 2014.

Some figures from Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College, in Gorakhpur – the only specialized hospital in Uttar Pradesh that imparts treatment to children – points to the gravity of the situation.

Year       Total Admissions             Total Deaths          Mortality Rate
2011            3308 cases                    627cases               18.95%
2012            2517 cases                    527cases               20.93%
2013            2110 cases                    619cases               29.33%
2014*              209 cases                   75 cases               35.88%

*(Till June 23, 2014)

These figures show a two fold increase in the death toll in a span of two years. This is in spite of better facilities, medical assistance, new wards and plenty of funds as compared to the last 6-7 years. If the government is pumping money and resources, why is there still an increase in the number of cases of encephalitis?

“The above facts indicate that more children will die this year, though the total number of patients has come down to 60 per cent as compared to previous years. If the number of admitted cases remain same as in previous two years, the deaths toll will be almost double this year as records indicate,’ said Dr R.N. Singh, Chief Campaigner, Encephalitis Eradication Campaign said. .

He also said the number of deaths will increase drastically in July. The state or union government has taken no preventive measures because the government machinery was busy in elections. Thus, children of the poor will have to pay a very high cost for the government’s apathy.

What could be the way out? Experts believe that a National Encephalitis Eradication Programme could help combat the disease in a holistic way. Encephalitis is a menace in 17 states including Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra, Haryana and Assam.

“If we can eradicate measles and small pox by carrying out a national programme, why can’t the government adopt the same method to counter encephalitis which kills 600 to 700 children every year. And this figure is of those children who died in hospitals. We do not know as to how many children died without treatment in private hospitals,” states Dr Radha Mohan Das Agarwal, a law maker and practicing pediatrician in Gorakhpur said.

The disease is both predictable and preventable. The annual monsoon fills parched paddy fields, which bear the mosquitoes that spread Japanese encephalitis from pigs to humans, devastating malnourished children with low immunity. Another strain of the disease — acute encephalitis syndrome — spreads through contaminated water. Residents defecate in the fields, contaminating the ground water. The mortality rate is 30 percent. Many children survive but are left disabled. Only 30-40 percent fully survive encephalitis attack.

In 2006, the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court termed this catastrophe as national medical emergency and called for a national policy to eradicate it. The same year a 100-page report was submitted to the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and a group of ministers was set up to formulate a national policy. But ultimately nothing happened.

“We need a political will to fight this disease. The need of the hour is to save children from this disease. A national policy on eradication of encephalitis and a strong political will can only rid the region of this menace,” Yogi Aditanath, MP from Gorakhpur said.

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