An outbreak of diseases,one of these being described as a mystery illness,has taken a heavy toll on children in Andhra Pradeshs Rayalaseema region. At least 500 children,aged between two and five,have been admitted to the Kurnool Government General Hospital with symptoms of dengue,chikungunya and strange viral fevers,doctors say.
Since October 12,the hospital has seen the death of 22 children. Just how many of them died due to viral fever is not clear. Resident medical officer Dr Gopal Raj said the high death count is due to the large number of children admitted to the neo-natal ICU following complications at birth. Kurnool Government Hospital is the largest referral hospital in Rayalaseema,especially for newborns.
The state government ordered an inquiry on Tuesday after being criticised by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) the previous day. A team of health department,sanitation and Pollution Control Board officials has been sent to Kurnool and Kadapa districts to assess the situation.
What is alarming is the extraordinarily high number of children admitted to the hospital with viral fever. Fever patients,very young children,started coming about two weeks ago. This happens usually due to seasonal changes but now it has taken epidemic proportions. We have three to five children on the same bed due to lack of space in the hospital. There are days when more than 50 children are admitted. A majority of the cases are coming from Kurnool and Kadapa,some from Anantapur and Mahbubnagar districts, RMO Dr Gopal Raj said.
A team of doctors from the hospital and Kurnool district health officials visited the worst affected areas Banganapalli,Alur,Pattikonda,Adoni and Matralayam and reported that malnutrition and extremely poor hygiene standards are making the populations vulnerable to viral illnesses.
Health Minister D L Ravindra Reddy said there were only four dengue and viral fever deaths. I am not sure on what basis the NCPCR sought the report but there are only four deaths due to diseases. In fact,it is not only Rayalaseema districts; we have noticed dengue in Warangal too where one death occurred. The number of cases is high and we have opened health centres to conduct tests and provide rapid medication, the minister said.
Hospital officials claim that the number of deaths attributed to viral fever is exaggerated. There are certainly some deaths. We are finding out how many died due to viral fever and other sickness. Kurnool Hospital also receives a high number of kids in a very critical condition as it is a referral hospital for four districts, says District Collector Ram Shankar Naik.
The NCPCR has directed the state government to order a probe and submit the report in a fortnight. Kurnool District Collector Ram Shankar Naik has been asked to conduct a probe into whether fever caused any deaths,and the reasons for the epidemic.
The commission has sought a report from the government as to what measures it was taking to contain spread of diseases. It has also asked for a report on the total number of cases of children who died at the hospital and Kurnool district primary health centres in the past three months,reports submitted by district health officials,hygiene and sanitation standards in the affected areas,and if there was pollution of drinking water.