Hospitals in Bihar are woefully understaffed at every level -- from doctors and nurses to lab technicians and pharmacists, the state government admitted in the Supreme Court today. The government, which was responding to a notice from the top court regarding the deaths of children due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome or AES, submitted a report that showed only 43 per cent of the sanctioned strength of doctors are available in hospitals. The percentages of nurses and lab technicians are even lower -- 29 per cent and 28 per cent.
In spite of this, the government said all steps have been taken to prevent the spread of AES and rate of fatality has dropped to 19 per cent.
Essential drugs are made available to the patients and supplementary nutrition is being given to the children in anganwadis, the government said.
More than 150 children have died in the outbreak of AES that happens almost every year in the litchi belt of Muzaffarnagar. Still, with the exact cause and therefore, methods of prevention yet to be pinned down, controlling the outbreak has been an uphill task for the health workers.
The crisis has emphasised the lack of medical infrastructure in the state, which scored poorly in a report -- "Healthy States, Progressive India" -- released in May by the government's think-tank NITI Aayog. In it, Bihar ranked 20th among the large states, only Uttar Pradesh fared worse.
Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in parliament that the death of children due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome in Bihar was a "matter of shame for the nation."
"We want our poor to get the best quality and affordable medical treatment," the PM said.
Acute Encephalitis Syndrome is a catch-all term for afflictions of the Central Nervous System caused by viral infections. The virus mainly responsible was considered to be the one that causes Japanese Encephalitis, but the AES could also be caused by scrub typhus, Zika, Nipah or even mumps virus. In some cases, the cause remains undetected. Till recently, hypoglycemia caused by litchi toxins was considered a form of AES.