The National Human Rights Commission on Monday issued notices to the Union Health Ministry and Bihar government as the death toll due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) rose to 103 in Muzaffarpur.
“The NHRC has taken suo motu cognisance of media reports about the rising number of deaths of children due to acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar in the past few days,” NHRC said in a statement.
The NHRC has sought a response within four weeks and other steps taken to deal with the situation. “The commission would also like to know about the status of the treatment being provided to the children, who are currently hospitalised, and the relief or rehabilitation provided by the state to the aggrieved families,” it said.
The human rights agency pointed out that the deaths of children in such a large number indicate towards a “possible flaw” in the proper implementation of the vaccination and awareness programmes.
“Not only vaccination but all precautionary measures such as cleanliness and hygiene are also required to be taken sincerely to ensure that kids do not fall prey to the fatal disease. It is a case of violation of human rights of the victim children and their families, as the state appears to have failed to protect the young innocent lives,” it said.
According to a release issued by the district administration, 18 deaths were reported from Kejriwal hospital in the district and 85 from Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH). Since January 1, 358 children with AES have been admitted to SKMCH and Kejriwal Matrisadan.
An official release from the Chief Minister’s office said Nitish Kumar expressed grief over the children’s death in the state and has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh for each of the children killed in the outbreak. He has also directed officials of the health department, the district administration and doctors to take all possible measures to tackle the situation.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan Sunday visited the SKMCH and assured that a 100-bed children ward would be set up at SKMCH. During his visit, the minister was met with protests from families of patients. Supporters of Jan Adhikar Party also waved black flags at Vardhan. Patients’ relatives complained to the Union Health Minister about the lack of facilities and ill-response from doctors and nurses.
AES affects the central nervous system, mostly in children and young adults. It starts with high fever, then hampers neurological functions causing mental disorientation, seizure, confusion, delirium, coma. AES outbreaks in Muzaffarpur have been reported since 1995, National Centre for Disease Control officials say. The cause of death in most this year has been attributed to hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar level)