Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan is in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district on a two-day visit to take stock of the rising number of deaths in the district and surrounding areas, due to suspected encephalitis. More than 100 people, mostly young children from rural areas, have already died so far.
Among those that Dr Harsh Vardhan met at Muzaffarpur's government hospital on Saturday evening was 9-year-old Manish Kumar, admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for three days now, displaying the same symptoms as those in hundreds of other children who have been visiting this hospital in the last two months with suspected encephalitis.
Though attempts are being made to make people more aware about the disease. "A day before he fell ill, an anganwadi nurse came to our village and told us about this disease and what to do in case of an emergency," Manish's mother Neeru Devi said.
But for over two decades, doctors and research teams have failed to identify what is causing this deadly disease here and in eastern Uttar Pradesh. This has resulted in a very high death rate and no specific direction on how to tackle this disease.
After spending over an hour at Muzaffarpur's Sri Krishna Memorial Hospital, Dr Harsh Vardhan announced a series of measures to try and tackle the disease, including a 100-bed pediatric ICU for the hospital and two research centres at Muzaffarpur and adjoining Darbhanga.
Some researchers, though, have disputed the government's vaccination plans in the area announced by the Union Health Minister recently, questioning how it will help in a case where no cause for this killer disease has been ascertained.
Dr Harsh Vardhan justified his plans by saying that vaccination does not harm a child and that if a vaccine was available it is best to use it.
The only relief, and hope perhaps, is the onset of monsoon, with doctors saying the number of suspected encephalitis cases will come down significantly once the heat and humidity goes away.