Author(s): Alok Gupta 
Date:Jun 10, 2014

Health ministry announces vaccination drive to curb AES; branch of National Institute of Virology to be established in the district in Bihar

imagePhoto: Sonal Matharu

As many as 42 children have died of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) in the past fortnight in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar. Expressing alarm over the deaths, the Union health ministry has put in place a plan to tackle the disease.

A special vaccination drive on the lines of pulse polio campaign will be launched from June 22; simultaneouly, measures taken by Gorakhpur district authorities of Uttar Pradesh to curb AES-related deaths will be implemented on a “war footing” in Muzaffarpur also. The Union health ministry has also decided to start an early warning system and provide 100 ventilators for hospitals in Muzaffarpur.

The slew of decisions were taken after a high-level meeting on Tuesday morning, chaired by Union health minister, Harsh Vardhan, at the ministry’s Nirman Bhawan headquarters in Delhi. The meeting was attended by health minister of Bihar and health secretaries of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Measures to be adopted

“We are launching crucial life-saving measures in 36 districts of Bihar to control death of infants due to AES. The Union government will provide all possible help to the state,” Harsh Vardhan said.

Senior officials in the meeting pointed out that authorities in Gorakhpur district, which was witnessing a large number of AES deaths, have controlled the disease in the past two years. It was agreed the same model would be adopted in Bihar to contain spread of AES. Deaths in Gorakhpur were controlled to a large extent after setting up a branch of National Institute of Virology and early warning system.

Help sought from CDC, Atlanta

The Union minister announced that a branch of National Institute of Virology would be set up in Muzaffarpur as well. Besides this, the Union health ministry will also approach Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control (CDC) for permanent eradication of AES virus. A scientist from CDC, Atlanta, is already treating and trying to save lives of AES-affected children in Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH).

AES-related deaths of children are being reported in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for the past 15 years. Earlier, Bihar was facing the double whammy of infant deaths due to AES and Japanese Encephalitis (JE). In the last two years, Bihar controlled JE-related deaths by importing vaccines from China. But the elusive AES virus continues to kill children.

Around 88 children are still struggling for life in SKMCH and Kejriwal Hospital in Muzaffarpur. According to state health department, AES has spread to eight more districts. Eight children have been admitted in the state capital’s Patna Medical College and Hospital.

Unabated deaths of children have instilled fear and anger among the families of the deceased children.

When Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi visited  families of the victims on Sunday, angry parents protested against him and complained of lack of medicines and beds in the hospitals. District magistrate Anupam Kumar tried to calm down the angry families but in vain.

The chief minister immediately announced a compensation of Rs 50,000 each to families of the deceased. He pulled up the hospital authorities and district administration and directed officials to immediately provide adequate medical facilities to the victims.

“AES virus affects only children. Once attacked by the virus, children suffer from encephalitis-like symptoms,” said Rajiva Kumar, head of paediatrics at Kejriwal Hospital.

Reason for AES still a mystery

A series of researches that blamed litchi  and mango plantations, bats and even river water have been inconclusive. Recently, head of Patna AIIMS, GK Singh, had linked river water flowing from Gorakhpur to Muzaffarpur as a reason for spread of AES in Bihar.


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