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Whose failure? Encephalitis kills 50,000 in 30 years

Gorakhpur: The deadly encephalitis, a water or mosquito borne viral disease, has been striking with alarming regularity in the eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh and 500 children have died due to it in the last two months. More than 50,000 lives have been lost in the last three decades as the public health system has collapsed in the region, which is one of the poorest in India.

Public health experts and activists say that the epidemic has been badly mismanaged for the last 33 years and the story should make 21st century India hang its head in shame. They say that there is no national programme to contain the epidemic in one of India’s poorest regions and point out that the response to the crisis by the government and the media has been both shocking and lethargic.

Paediatric wards in Gorakhpur hospitals cannot handle the load of Encephalitis victims and is the same scene at several hospitals in the city. At the BRD Medical College Hospital in Gorakhpur an old man is carrying his dead grandson while a mother is senseless with grief.

One month old Harsh was bought to hospital with symptoms of encephalitis – fever and vomiting – three days ago but he stopped breathing on Friday morning.

“We had named him Harsh thinking he’ll bring joy to our lives. But if god didn’t want it what can we do,” says Harsh’s grandfather Ram Preet.

Harsh’s doctors have no time to grieve for him a there are 600 children in the encephalitis ward waiting to be saved. But some of the young patients are beyond hope while some will live.

“Every day we have to cope with this situation and this has been going on for the last two months. The number of patients is so large we cannot cope with the resources we have,” admits Dr KP Kushwaha, HOD Paediatrics, BRD Medical College and Hospital.

A team of 40 doctors look after 600 patients with each patient, sharing a bed with three others. Medical supplies are constantly running out.

With no cure available for either the mosquito borne Japanese Encephalitis or its water borne version, 300 children have died of the viral in this hospital alone in the last two months and the figure will easily cross 500, if unreported deaths from the region are taken into account.

It’s a tragedy that repeats itself year after year during the monsoon in eastern Uttar Pradesh. The first outbreak was reported in 1978 and today 33 years, 50,000 deaths and billions of rupees down the drain, the epidemic has still not been contained. While the story was being filed five babies died in two hours in the hospital, with two of them succumbing in front of this correspondent’s eyes.

The Uttar Pradesh government has released Rs 22 crore to deal with the crisis, but it is too little too late says DR RN Singh, who has been fighting to eradicate encephalitis. Fed up with the mismanagement he has taken to writing letters in blood to the powers that be including one to Congress MP Rahul Gandhi.

“There are two Indias we live in. One where a disease comes by plane – swine flu – and measures are taken overnight and the other where there are deaths after deaths, 50,000 kids die and there is no national programme,” says Dr Singh.

The writing is on the wall and this is a national medical emergency. But because it afflicts an India of poverty and hunger it is perhaps easier to look the other way.

The big questions: According to government figures between 2005-2009 over 3000 children have died of Japanese Encephalitis in Uttar Pradesh. It is not just Uttar Pradesh, 54 children have died in Gaya, Bihar too.

Even after 33 years why has the government failed to contain the killer encephalitis?

Why is there no national eradication programme like the ones for polio or malaria?

Are 40 doctors and one hospital enough to deal with the crisis?

Why is the Uttar Pradesh government silent on the epidemic and doing very little?

Why is the Central Government not doing more in preventing this epidemic?

Are governments ignoring the crisis because it afflicts only the poor and the powerless? … Read More

via Whose failure? Encephalitis kills 50,000 in 30 years

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