Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar today said "expressing grief" was not enough for the deaths of more than 160 children from a deadly outbreak of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome. The matter should be addressed through awareness campaigns and socio-economic survey, said the Chief Minister, whose government has been criticised for its failure to react swiftly to the tragedy.
"From what experience we have, we discussed with concerned departments and made suggestions. Experts have given different opinions," he told the state assembly today while discussing the containment of a disease, the exact cause of which is yet to be pinned down.
"This is important as in cases where the exact nature of disease is known we are able to act much more effectively," Nitish Kumar added.
Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) refers to a number of conditions affecting the central nervous system that are caused by viral infections. An outbreak of AES has killed more than 160 children in the state since June 1. The majority of the fatalities reported from Muzaffarpur district, and led to protests against the ruling Janata Dal (United) government.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who did not visit Muzaffarpur until June 18, was met with large crowds of angry parents and protestors shouting "Wapas jao (go back)" when he arrived at the city's Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH), which was described as "Ground Zero" of the outbreak. Following his visit, the Bihar government announced a plan to conduct a door-to-door survey to study AES, a step that he highlighted today.
"We need to conduct a socio-economic survey to evaluate the reason behind the spread of this disease. I also took stock of the situation at the hospitals and talked to the parents of children suffering from AES," Mr Kumar said, adding that reports had been sent to the United States to get "expert opinions".
The crisis emphasised the lack of medical infrastructure in the state, which scored poorly in a report - "Healthy States, Progressive India" - released last month by the NITI Aayog. Bihar ranked 20 among big states, with only Uttar Pradesh faring worse.
Opposition leaders from the RJD, the Congress and the CPI (ML) took the state government to task over the deaths, standing with placards in their hands while shouting slogans and demanding the resignation of Health Minister Mangal Pandey.
The Bihar health minister found himself on the receiving end of further criticism last month, when he appeared more interested in the score of a cricket match between India and Pakistan than conducting a press conference on the AES outbreak. Another Bihar lawmaker, Ajay Nishad, was also criticised after he dismissed the deaths as "small mistakes" on the part of the state government.
Last week the Supreme Court gave the centre and state governments seven days to respond to a petition alleging that the AES deaths were "a direct result of negligence and inaction" in handling the outbreaks. The top court instructed both parties to respond on three issues - nutrition levels, medical facilities and hygiene levels.
With inputs from ANI