The recent Encephalitis outbreak in Bihar has again brought the state to the centre of discussion. Over the past few weeks, more than 150 children have lost their lives due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). Under fire is Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has been facing the heat for poor health infrastructure in the state and more importantly the failure of the state government to take proactive steps to control the outbreak, despite a historical record of similar outbreaks in the past.
The Encephalitis outbreak has essentially brought to light the crippling conditions of the state’s health infrastructure and the government’s inactivity with respect to the outbreak. Nitish Kumar’s image as a ‘good administrator’ built over time with the help of friendly media also stands exposed as children lose their lives to blatant negligence of the state government.
Also missing from the scene is political strategist and JD(U) national Vice President, Prashant Kishor. The former public health expert of the United Nations has kept himself away from the outbreak, while hundreds of children lost their lives. He was associated with the UN as an expert for more than half a decade. While the state struggles to provide optimum medical services to patients, Prashant Kishor was reportedly seen mingling with political parties in a bid to win contracts for his political strategy firm. However, when contacted by Sunday Guardian Live Prashant Kishor decided to put out a technical defense for his absence in efforts to combat a medical emergency in the state.
“I am not part of the government and the government is dealing with the AES problem. You should talk to the government, who am I to answer you on this issue? I am not part of the government, so you should ask these questions to the health minister or the government’s officials. I am not an expert on AES.” Prashant Kishor said.
Despite Prashant Kishor’s extensive experience in the field of public health, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has also so far shown no indication of getting his right-hand man, Prashant Kishor onboard to deal with the medical emergency. Absence of Prashant Kishor, who himself had started his social life as public health activist in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, raises serious questions on the leadership of Nitish Kumar.
Nitish Kumar’s negligence on this issue has been distressing; over the past few years, the state has witnessed similar Encephalitis outbreaks however no substantial action was taken for prevention or cure of the disease. In 2012, the government had announced to set up a special research facility in Muzaffarpur to study the causes behind children getting affected by this syndrome. Children from the region around Muzaffarpur and Eastern Uttar Pradesh are affected almost every year from this problem.
However, despite the high number of deaths reported every year, the exact reason remains a mystery. Seven years and hundreds of deaths later, the government still does not have a clear answer. Unofficial reports from the region peg the deaths due to Encephalitis at a much higher level to what is represented in official data. According to unofficial reports, the disease wreaked havoc in the region in 2012, claiming 424 lives. In 2013, the toll stood at 222. In 2014, 379 encephalitis-related deaths were reported in the region. In 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, the toll was 90, 103, 54 and 33, respectively.
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