Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) has claimed the lives of nearly 150 children in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur. Every year during May-June such deaths have become common in this part of the country. 122 children died in 2014. 171 unfortunate children did not survive after being affected in 2012. These figures only prove that we have not learnt any lessons from the tragic incidents. Like the same old banal songs, year after year after such huge losses some promises are made just to be broken in due course. The authorities wash their hands by blaming consumption of litchis, a seasonal fruit, which is available in plenty in the area in summer.
This year too, there is no exception from this regular practice. Union Health Minister has visited Muzaffarpur. Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of the State took time out from his busy schedule after 17 days of the outbreak. Though, some people criticised him for the apathy shown towards the children, the Chief Minister was undeterred. He made usual promises and returned to his abode in Patna, leaving the grieving parents behind.
But is it really difficult to prevent the outbreak of AFS in Muzaffarpur? No, not really as it can be countered with awareness. The AFS is caused due to falling sugar level which in medical term is called hypoglycaemia because of the presence of two toxins, namely Hypoglycin A and MCPG. These toxins prevent proper sugar synthesis in the body. It is definitely curable. But lack of nutrition among the children makes the death toll high even in such a curable disease. So if the authorities can create awareness that consuming litchis in huge quantity without taking proper food can have detrimental affect on the lives of many children.
But be it making children aware of the ill effects of over consumption of litchis or providing nutritious food, the government has failed on both counts. Even in 21st century, how the Muzaffarpur district is affected by malnutrition can be seen through a study that has shown that 65 per cent of the children were stunted (low height for age) and 16 per cent was wasted (low height for weight). Moreover, critical care for affected children is a must. Standard operating protocols (SOP) should be in place. To save the children, ventilator, life support and constant BP monitoring systems are must. Needless to say such facilities are not available in Muzaffarpur. Only after the recent outbreak, Union Health Ministry has donated eight ambulances for speedy transportation of patients to hospitals. One can’t resist from questioning whether the ambulances will be enough to save lives in absence of necessary equipments in the hospitals? And what prevented the ministry from donating ambulances earlier despite knowing that such outbreaks of AES are common during summer?
All these clearly indicate that we simply neglect our children. No matter, how many welfare measures the government takes, implementation are pathetic to say the least. Fruits of such welfare schemes are not reaching the people. Thus the delivery system must be overhauled. Making a beeline after the tragedy and delivering unfulfilled promises are not enough to save the lives of our children. We have to be pro active to protect the future of our children.