The Supreme Court on Monday expressed “grave concern” over deaths caused by the outbreak of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in Bihar and sought responses from the Central and state governments on a petition that alleged that negligence and inaction claimed the lives of at least 152 children in Muzaffarpur and other areas.
The apex court asked the Centre and the state government to respond within seven days with details of medical facilities, sanitation, nutrition and hygiene conditions in Bihar.
“Deaths are a serious issue as most who have died are children… Deaths cannot go on. We need answers,” observed the vacation bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai.
In Muzaffarpur, which is the epicentre of the disease that causes brain swelling and high fever followed by disorientation, seizures, coma and death — with malnourished young children the worst affected — dozens of children have died at the Sri Krishna Medical College Hospital (SKMCH). Four fresh cases of AES were reported at the hospital on Monday, officials said.
“This public interest litigation relates to outbreak of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome virus that has caused deaths of about 150 children in different districts in the state of Bihar. The writ petition raises issues of grave concern and importance relating to public medical care facilities, nutrition and sanitation/hygiene. The respondents will file their response within seven days specifically dealing with the question of public medical care facilities, nutrition and sanitation/hygiene,” the court said about the disease, an outbreak of which killed 350 children in Muzaffarpur in 2014.
The SC said the governments would have to satisfy the court that there was no laxity and there were adequate numbers of doctors and medicines to tackle the outbreak.
The petition, filed in the top court last week by advocates Manohar Pratap and Sanpreet Singh Ajmani, asserted that the deaths were caused due to the negligence and inaction by the governments and that poor handling led to the epidemical situation that arises every year due to AES. The petition also said there was a shortage of doctors, beds, and intensive care units to deal with the situation.
AES can be caused by a raft of factors, including toxins in unripe litchis — Muzaffarpur is the litchi hub of the state — viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, and chemical poisons. Since the first fatality was reported on June 5, the state government’s response has been roundly criticised with many experts saying Muzaffarpur’s poor health care system was overwhelmed by the scale of the outbreak, with children being treated on the floor of the hospital. But the government said all doctors were aware of the proper course of treatment and were following it to ensure no further loss of life.
In Patna, a local court ordered an investigation into the charges of negligence against Union health minister Harsh Vardhan and Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey in connection with the deaths.
Reacting to the development, BJP spokesperson Sanjay Tiger said: “If someone has filed a case and court has taken note of this, we will face the legal procedure. But both the Centre and state have done all possible help with a positive intent and to best of its ability.”
The Janata Dal (United)’s spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan said: “This is a legal procedure and we respect the court’s order.”
Jun 25, 2019 00:06 IST
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