One year of Gorakhpur tragedy: How the Yogi government has fought back and almost defeated Japanese Encephalitis

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It has been a year since the tragic death of 30 children took place at the government run Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur due to widespread Japanese Encephalitis in and around Gorakhpur which has been haunting this part of the state of Uttar Pradesh for decades. In this tragic incident 30 children had died in a period of 48 hours. 17 children had died in the neo-natal ward, five in the AES (acute encephalitis syndrome) ward and eight in the general ward. Meanwhile, the opposition did not even care about how the entire nation was mourning the death of these kids and unabashedly indulged in political mudslinging. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath became an obvious target.

However, a closer study and analysis of this deadly disease makes it clear that it is not the current chief minister who should be blamed for this. In fact, the first case had been reported in 1978 in the region and since then 40,000 cases of Japanese encephalitis have been detected and 15,000 deaths have been reported. Therefore, around 1,000 cases come up every year and hundreds of deaths have been taking place. Gorakhpur region (Deoria, Gorakhpur, Kushinagar and Maharajganj) is the hotbed of Japanese encephalitis in India even though it is widespread in North Bengal and East Bengal as well. However, the Delhi-based media never cared much about how this devastating disease was wrecking havoc in eastern Uttar Pradesh. The previous Akhilesh government also did not care much about this region as western Uttar Pradesh was a bigger priority for it. In these circumstances, it can be said that Yogi Adityanath has been fighting a lone battle against this disease. As a member of Parliament from the Gorakhpur constituency he raised the issue of Japanese Encephalitis in this region time and again. He also questioned the state government for its inaction. However, the warning signals that he had been giving fell on deaf ears. The then Akhilesh government remained oblivious to this issue and the mainstream media did not seem to care about it.

When Yogi Adityanath came to power, his topmost priority was freeing the state and Gorakhpur region in particular from this deadly menace which claims the lives of children in this region almost every monsoon. In the first three months of his tenure, he started a massive vaccination drive against Japanese Encephalitis with an ambitious target to immunize 88 lakh children against this disease. Uttar Pradesh chief minister then stated, “I have seen children dying of this disease. The time has come to give this dreaded disease a silent burial.” It is clear that no matter how deadly, Encephalitis is a preventable disease and Uttar Pradesh finally got a chief minister who took it seriously and decided to wipe out this disease. There can be no defense to the heart wrenching deaths of young children but the fact remains that despite the BRD Hospital tragedy by the end of 2017 it became clear that the number of deaths taking place due to encephalitis were actually on the decline. The efforts made by the Yogi government seem to be paying off. Particularly, in chief minister Yogi’s Gorakhpur bastion, there has been a tremendous improvement. Fatality rate of AES has seen the sharpest decline in five years. Similarly, the fatality rate of its biological cousin Japanese Encephalitis has seen a sharp decline falling to 18.62 per cent from 28.91 per cent in 2016.

However, the biggest corroboration of Yogi Government’s success came in April this year when the UNICEF lauded the Yogi government for successfully implementing the DASTAK campaign and immunizing all children of the state against Japanese Encephalitis and AES. It tweeted,  “A big shout out to #UttarPradesh for immunizing every child in the state against Japanese Encephalitis and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome under the #Dastak campaign! ??#VaccinesWork for #DimagiBukharSeJung.” Therefore, one year post the BRD Hospital strategy we can say that the Yogi government has put up a brave fight against the deadly disease and has almost rid the state of Encephalitis which has claimed thousands of children till date. He deserves all the praise for single-handedly transforming the hotbed of Encephalitis. 

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Akshay Narang

Patriot, Political Analyst, Amateur Historian
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