Saturday, March 6, 2021

Criminal negligence

Deaths of more than a 100 children due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in Muzaffarpur hospital of Bihar in the last few days is unfortunate and tragic for the young children have lost their lives for no fault of theirs. It is all the more tragic that every year, in May end and early June, as the temperatures rise above 40 degrees Celsius followed by humidity, there is horrific news of death of dozens of children in Muzaffarpur, the Litchi bowl of India. It is also sad that despite its precise predictability, there is criminal negligence in preparedness of the government to meet this challenge and save previous lives of the children. It is strange that half a century old Shri Krishna Medical College Hospital in Muzaffarpur is not prepared in terms of infrastructure to handle the situation that has been arising time and again every year. In 2014, there was relatively higher number of deaths of children compared to previous years. At that time, the NDA-government sent the same health minister Dr Harshvardhan to Muzaffarpur and made tall promises besides persuading parents to agree to let the doctors obtain samples of dead children for tests. These samples were claimed to have been sent to some specialized laboratories but nobody knows what happened thereafter. This year too, the same health minister made almost similar promises. It is interesting to note that the Kejriwal Hospital in Muzaffarpur, managed by a Marwari Charitable Trust, previously known for mainly providing low-cost maternity-related treatment, started paediatric care after 2014 is doing creditable service and saving more children after they are admitted having AES. This private hospital is witnessing death rate of child patients of every seventh patient while the Government Hospital is recording death every third children patient admitted therein. Apart from the criminal negligence in treating the child patients, there is admitted fact that administering dextrose with alacrity to the affected children is quite helpful. Yet, there is acute unavailability of dextrose at government hospitals, in rural hospitals of the community development blocks as well as at urban hospitals. The doctors also say that notwithstanding the mysteries about the disease, once the treatment is conducted in accordance with what is done for AES, they save lives. Certain parts of Muzaffarpur are more affected by this health crisis. Only poor, malnourished, children fall prey to this disease. It has been seen that well nourished children don’t get affected reveals a Current Science study. Despite forewarning, extreme neglect of the infrastructure for paediatric care and lack of immediate preventive measures are the biggest causes for the high casualty rate. The state as well as the central government, every year, hide behind the mystery of the disease linking it with litchi fruits, and does not confess malnutrition as the prime cause. The globally renowned health journal, Lancet, also recommended rapid glucose correction to combat the disease. Yet, the government did not make this available at its hospitals in this particular area. Each community development block has government hospitals. By April, these hospitals should have been supplied with adequate stock of dextrose. The official records suggest that this did not happen as the government was totally careless on this serious issue. It is shocking, even the political opposition has not staged any significant protest to expose the government’s callous unpreparedness. Nobody has asked for Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey’s resignation, nor has the opposition spoken out inside the legislature. The Indian Medical Association has been silent as well on this issue. The IMA was likewise mute when the deaths of children at the Gorakhpur Medical College occurred a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, the Gorakhpur tragedy ended up with the victimisation of Dr Kafeel Khan who intervened to save the children. The Muzaffarpur tragedy exposes overall degeneration as a society which has vitiated the polity and governance to the extent that only caste and religion-based hatred provokes us to protest.