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A criminal apathy

Gorakhpur's encephalitis deaths are a test for Yogi Adityanath government. It must reset its priorities

By: Editorial | Published: August 14, 2017 12:18 am
CBFC, Amartya Sen, Amartya Sen documentary, Pahlaj Nihalani, Central Board of Film Certification, indian express editorial The bizarre demand for surgery on a documentary could be seen as part of a general phenomenon which is narrowing the spectrum of thought and expression by a thousand cuts.

At least 60 children, many of them encephalitis patients, died in a Gorakhpur hospital last week, 30 of them in the past four days. Reports have described a shortage of oxygen supply to intensive care units in Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital where the children were admitted — the UP government has denied that the cut in supply was the cause of the deaths. But encephalitis has been a scourge in Gorakhpur for nearly 40 years — and it has not been addressed by successive governments with the urgency it deserves.

According to conservative estimates, 25,000 people have succumbed to it since the disease was first reported in the area in 1978 — more than 50 of them this year, before last week’s pestilence. The latest tragedy confirms that the Yogi Adityanath government has treated the festering public health crisis in Gorakhpur — which also happens to be the chief minister’s constituency — with the same criminal apathy, even as it seems to have prioritised polarising issues, like setting up anti-Romeo squads and devising patriotism tests for madrasas in the state.

Encephalitis is a viral disease that mosquitoes transmit to humans from pigs. In most cases, it causes a mild fever and headache that recede within a few days. But one in 250 people develop high fever, severe headache and neck stiffness that exacerbates into seizures, paralysis and coma. At times, survivors are left with serious disabilities, mental and physical. In 2006, a study in the journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, pointed out why Gorakhpur is prone to the virulent form of the disease.

An abundance of rice fields and a bowl-shaped landscape that allows water to collect in pools create ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Since then, several studies and reports have highlighted the link between poor sanitation facilities, open defecation and encephalitis in eastern UP where Gorakhpur is located. Yet uncovered drains, clogged sewers and garbage-strewn streets remain a common sight in the region. Gonda, which sends a large number of encephalitis patients to the Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital every year, has been named the worst performing district in the Swachh Bharat Survey this year.

The hospital, itself an example of all that continues to be wrong with public health management in the country, is the only institution within a 300 sq km area with facilities to treat encephalitis and other infectious disease. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of an AIIMS at Gorakhpur. While the setting up of such an institution is welcome, encephalitis can be best combated by strengthening primary healthcare facilities. Epidemiological studies have shown that lives of encephalitis patients can be saved if they receive immediate treatment from trained doctors and are not forced to travel long distances to access medical care. Last week’s tragedy is a grim reminder to the UP government — it has work to do, it must reset its priorities.

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  1. A
    Aug 14, 2017 at 3:40 pm
    Neither the events leading up to the deaths - discontinuance of supply of oxygen cylinders by a firm whose bills had remained unpaid for seven months being well documented - nor the manner in which the state administration is respondng to it give much hope that it will make a much needed course correction. Ms. Tavleen Singh was trolled when she described the condition of public hygiene in Gorakhpur after a recent visit. The loss of so many precious lives ought to have subdued I Day functions and events. Instead, the CM is exhorting people and the police to celebrate Janmashtmi on a g scale. Good that our Lord Krishna did not rely on UP's public health care system ...
    1. S
      Aug 14, 2017 at 8:40 am
      This is one of the sanest article I have ever read on this issue.Short,compact,to the point without any political vendetta. Human life is so cheap in India that none of the governments had bothered about maintaining cleanliness and sanitation in such areas. Even Modi's swachha bharat abhiyaan had been reduced to photo-ops and mere sloganism. It's always in hindshight that we realize our mistakes. Yogi's fault is that he did not prioritize sanitation. But the non-Bjp governments should not be spared or given clean chit. This mismanagement and indifference to sanitation had been continuing for long. In fact dirty surroundings had been accepted as norm and become our second nature. Only when there are some tragic incidents like the current one, the issue of sanitation comes to the fore, but is conveniently swept under the carpet as soon as things cool down. Apart from that, gradual privatization of healthcare would destroy India when even the basic health facilities are non-affordable.
      1. P
        P Rao
        Aug 14, 2017 at 9:20 am
        The yogi has to resign taking moral responsibility for the issue but before leaving he has to ensure that suitable measures are taken to avoid such issues in future.An apology does not solve the problem in this case. That should be his penance!!