The political slugfest over Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) deaths in Bihar intensified on Sunday, with former Union Minister and RLSP supremo Upendra Kushwaha holding Chief Minister Nitish Kumar responsible for the tragedy and demanded his resignation.
Kushwaha’s remarks came on day AES deaths mounted to 130 in worst-hit Muzaffarpur district. This year, there have been 560 confirmed cases of AES.
Kushwaha demands Nitish Kumar’s resignation
Upendra Kushwaha blamed the Bihar government’s laxity and alleged that no action had been taken despite the mounting deaths.
“Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is responsible for children’s deaths in large number in Muzaffarpur district…Despite so many deaths of children, the state government has not taken any concrete action to prevent it. The entire health services have been left at God’s mercy,” PTI quoted Kushwaha as saying.
Most of the deaths which have been reported from three blocks in Muzaffarpur — Mushahari, Minapur and Kanti (14). The AES outbreak has affected about 20 out of the 40 districts in the state and has afflicted more than 600 children since June 1.
“Mr Chief Minister, mere assurance (to improve things) will not serve the purpose. Either you act or resign from the post of CM, failing which the RLSP would hit the roads to expose him (Nitish) for his failures,” Kushwaha said.
Nitish Kumar was also heavily criticised by people when he visited Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH), almost weeks after the outbreak and angry protesters outside the hospital shouted slogans asking him to “go back”.
RJD students’ wing marches to Raj Bhawan
The Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) students wing also carried out a protest march to the Raj Bhawan on Sunday. Amid slogans of “Nitish Kumar Murdabad”, the protesters demanded the immediate resignation of the state’s Health Minister, Mangal Pandey.
The protesters also demanded that a high-level committee be formed and families of all deceased get compensation. “If a high-level committee is not formed and no compensation is given to families, we will carry forward our protest with more aggression throughout Bihar. We will not stop this protest until the Nitish-Modi duo takes responsibility for the death of children,” ANI quoted a student representative as saying.
Lack of beds or lack of doctors?
Citing state government data, Kushwaha, who was accompanied by the RLSP’s national general secretary, underlined that the government had failed to fill up the sanctioned posts of doctors in the state. Against the sanctioned posts of 7249 regular doctors in Bihar, only 3416 doctors have been currently working in government hospitals and only 533 doctors out of the sanctioned 2314 posts for contractual doctors have been filled up.
“How will the health care system improve with 3,679 doctors working in the state against the total sanctioned posts of 9,563 doctors (including regular and contractual doctors)?” Kushwaha asked. Targetting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for not expressing their sorrow or grief over the loss of lives in the state, he said, “This shows their insensitivity.”
The litchi factor
In 2014, a research paper, ‘Epidemiology of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome in India: Changing Paradigm and Implication for Control’ drew a parallel between cases in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and in Vietnam’s Bac Giang province. In both places, there were litchi orchards in the neighbourhood.
“The possible association with some toxin in litchi or in the environment needs to be documented. Methylene cyclopropyl glycine (MCPG) which has been known to be a content of litchi fruit has been shown to cause hypoglycaemia in experimental animals,” the study said.
Dr Sinha said when litchi harvesting starts in May, several workers spend time in the fields. “It is common for children to feed on fallen litchis and sleep without food. The toxin in litchi lowers blood sugar level during night, and these children are found unconscious in the morning,” Dr Sinha said.
However, it still is “a matter of debate”, a Bihar state surveillance officer had said, adding, “If toxins from litchi were causing hypoglycaemia, then these cases should have remained consistent each year and affected children of all socio-economic strata. This year, all deaths have all been recorded in the lower income groups.”
Portion of roof collapses at Muzaffarpur hospital
Meanwhile, a portion of Muzaffarpur’s Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Bihar collapsed outside the ICU ward, ANI reported on Sunday. No injuries have been reported from the incident. SKMCH superintendent Dr Sunil Kumar Shahi told ANI: “A patch of plaster from the roof fell off, nobody has been injured. It’s not inside any ward but around the veranda area.”