The government today stressed on universal immunisation to fight encephalitis which has claimed 700 lives during the year in four states including Assam and West Bengal. "MPs should mobilise people (in their constituencies) to ensure universal immunisation of children and even adults to combat encephalitis," Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said while replying to a discussion on the issue in the Lok Sabha.
The disease has claimed 208 lives in West Bengal, 197 in Assam, 159 in Bihar and 123 in Uttar Pradesh so far this year, he said, seeking seeking cooperation of MPs, NGOs, corporates and religious organisations to make sure that "whatever (disease) can be prevented should be prevented at all cost." As many as 14 lakh children die in the country before they reach the age of 5, Vardhan said, adding, "80 per cent of such deaths are on due to diseases which can be prevented." In case of encephalitis, 92 per cent of the children who died were not immunised, he said, pointing out that although the disease cannot be eradicated, it can to a large extent be contained through universal immunisation and use of boiled water in affected areas.
"In recent months, upsurge in cases of encephalitis has been reported from eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam," he said, adding he had written to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee offering all assistance.In the last few years, even adults were being affected by encephalitis, which was usually seen in children below the age of 15 years, Vardhan said. The cases of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AEC) reported from UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam stood at 501, 857, 1183 and 1,217 respectively, he said. The calling attention motion, moved by BJP member Yogi Adityanath, was later converted into a short duration discussion by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.
Vardhan said his Ministry was closely monitoring the situation in the affected states and added, "We are available 24X7 for any assistance." As soon as information was received about an upsurge in encephalitis cases in North Bengal, the Centre had sent a four-member expert team to assist state health authorities in containing its outbreak and to provide technical assistance, he said. Vardhan urged MPs from the affected districts to undertake awareness campaigns in their areas on the importance of clean drinking water and ensure routine immunisation for children.
On containing the Japanese Encephalitis, a vector borne disease, he said the strategy should now be to get adults vaccinated and expand the coverage of vaccination. Initiating the discussion, Adityanath said over the years, encephalitis virus has changed its nature and hence there was a need for proper vaccination and it should be declared an "epidemic". He said the incidence of encephalitis has now spread to 19 states, affecting 171 districts and hence there was need for the government to organise an awareness campaign. Among those who participated in the discussion were Jai Prakash Narayan Yadav (RJD), S S Ahluwalia (BJP), Dharam Vira Gandhi (AAP), Ashwini Kumar Choubey (BJP), Ram Kripal Yadav (BJP), P Venugopal (AIADMK), Kamlesh Paswan (BJP) and Gaurav Gogoi (Cong).