Bihar is done and dusted with election battle as the ruling alliance has registered an emphatic victory over the opposition alliance (Mahagathbandhan) but the battle of perception has not ended. As crisis and challenges do exist within sections of society and lastly political force churns out an answer and delivers it to the masses.
In Bihar, since June 1st 2019, at least five districts of the state namely Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Sitamarhi, Samastipur, and East Champaran are reported to have disease outbreak of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES).
The symptomatic forms of disease leave neurological sequele or cause death in the severest cases. Japanese Encephalitis, one of the main diseases causing AES, is a viral infection spread mainly through Culex mosquito bites. Children between the age group 2 to 15 are the most vulnerable.
Between 2008 and 2014, there have been more than 44,000 cases and nearly 6000 deaths from encephalitis in India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, according to ‘Acute encephalitis in India: An unfolding tragedy’ by Jai Prakash Narain, A. C. Dhariwal, and C. Raina MacIntyre published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research (IJMR).
Helplessness of Government:
After reporting of AES cases from several districts, Nitish Kumar’s government, health ministry and medical authorities started responding but that wasn’t enough as the epidemic outbreak was on a large scale. This was not the first time that such mayhem was in action.Earlier, Bihar was had to face the double whammy of infant deaths due to AES and Japanese Encephalitis (JE) but in last few years JE cases went reportedly missing by importing vaccines from China.
Affected infants, children are being treated in Muzaffarpur’s Shri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) and Kejriwal Matri Sadan (KMS) but at large SKMCH is undertaking the treatment. Bihar government’s unpreparedness got exposed when patients in large number started pouring in and had to face inconvenience such as-
Unavailability of beds in Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Eight bed PICU had to treat 16 infants at a time; in each ward there were no more than four oxygen points and with no visiting doctors and attendant overnight which led to demise of three patients. Five years back, in 2014, Dr. Harshvardhan as Union health minister visited SKMCH to assess a similar outbreak and had made big promises like setting up of a ‘Virology lab’ in the hospital turned out to be a hollow promise for the distressed.
Besides this, initially when cases started to come in the state health minister, Mangal Pandey did not have time to visit patients on immediate note though he had enough of it to attend a conference in Canada and a party meeting in New Delhi. After 13 days the gentleman pays a courtesy visit who earlier ridiculed the encephalitis breakout.
Muzaffarpur MLA Suresh Sharma (A BJP cabinet minister in Bihar government), Sanjay Kumar, Bihar health secretary and Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwani Kumar Choubey followed the footsteps of ignorance, ridiculing occurrence of deadly outbreak of encephalitis.
But this bubble of misappropriation blew off when a seven member central team bashed medical authorities with numerous guidelines and strong research oriented action plan. In simple words, 15 years of time was less for Bihar government to make arrangements to counter the deadly outbreak of encephalitis in a district which is most prone to it.
Yesterday, during visit of Union health minister, Dr. Harshvardhan attentiveness of Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwani Kumar Choubey and Muzaffarpur MLA & Urban development minister Bihar government, Suresh Sharma was in display where they were found sleeping while press conference was midway.
Even after death of more than 90 children, Bihar’s Chief Minister did not get time to visit victims but rather prioritized upcoming assembly election of Jharkhand over this crisis which engulfed many lives.
Opposition in Coma:
With suffering children in Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the opposition parties in Bihar are also in coma. Apart from government, the opposition parties in Bihar have incredibly spoiled a chance to carry out the battle of ideas in the state by not agitating against misrule of the state government which often boasts on good governance. Not a single comment, press conference or public meeting was convened state’s Leader of Opposition (LoP), not a single protest, march or rally by opposition parties (RJD, INC) was witnessed by people.
Leaders from opposition benches have outraged only over social media platforms like Twitter which doesn’t make sense if radical change on ground is expected.
Is the visit of a fact finding team led by opposition parties to SKMCH to enquire about epidemic outbreak is enough to express solidarity with victims?
The opposition parties in Bihar somehow have failed to overcome from Lok Sabha debacle shock but intervening for a solution in such gigantic health crisis was no less than a chance to win back people’s trust and sympathy which now has gone.
With the children, the parents have also suffered, fighting a dual battle: against helplessness while seeing their children ravaged by the outbreak and medical ignorance loaded with scepticism. The penury of the parents may not have caused the disease but it made the hapless children more susceptible because they were malnourished and ill-fed and therefore weak before the killer disease.
Their poverty also perhaps allowed the authorities to remain callous and go unpunished for failing to pin-point the reason of the diseases for more than two decades now.
Death of 93 children (official record) has attained attention of media and common man with empathy but sadly it has failed to get a serious one from both the ruling and opposition parties otherwise scenario would have been different. The ruling party leaders slept during press conference while opposition camp is sleeping without hue & cry against the worst outcome of health crisis.
The healthcare crisis overshadows development which Bihar as a state undertook in a decade and half and equally mocks the opposition force for its resounding silence hence a grave political crisis exists in Bihar that adds shame to name of democracy.