Supreme Court pulls up Centre, Bihar as AES deaths rise to 168

Muzaffarpur kid deaths a grave concern, says SC

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Supreme Court pulls up Centre, Bihar as AES deaths rise to 168
Police jostle with women protesting the deaths of scores of children in Bihar due to encephalitis, in Kolkata on Monday

Shocked over the death of more than 150 children due to acute encephalitis syndrome in Muzaffarpur, the Supreme Court on Monday gave the Centre and Bihar a week's time to explain their efforts to improve medical care facilities, nutrition, and hygiene in the state, calling them three "missing links".

A vacation bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai stressed the need to tackle the three areas during the hearing of a public interest litigation on the AES deaths. It also learnt that Uttar Pradesh had seen some success in reducing such deaths by working on these fronts.

"We are faced with a very extraordinary situation as this cannot be permitted in the first place. All victims are children and we require a response from the state specifically on the adequacy of public medical care facilities, nutrition and sanitation/hygiene. These are the missing links we have found after going through several media reports," said the bench.

AES affects the central nervous system, mostly in children and young adults. It starts with high fever, then cripples neurological functions causing disorientation, seizures, convulsions, delirium and coma. The cases spike with rising heat.

The Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General Bikramjeet Banerjee, told the court that the situation had improved and he would detail the steps being taken. Petitioner Manohar Pratap, a lawyer who filed the PIL, said the Bihar story was a repeat of what had happened in UP two years ago. when AES and Japanese encephalitis had killed several children. The petitioner said the virus seems to be active in one or the other areas in the Eastern UP belt.

The factors causing them need to be addressed, the petition added.

The top court said, "This public interest litigation raises issues of grave concern and importance relating to the outbreak of AES that has caused deaths of about 150 children in different districts in Bihar."

The UP government in a written reply to the Assembly had said that 187 people died due to encephalitis in 2018 against 553 deaths in the year before. The number of reported cases across 14 districts of East UP was 3,817 in 2017 and 2,043 last year. The drop in numbers was due to concerted efforts on raising awareness of public health, hygiene and sanitation, seen as major factors in AES cases.

The apex court has also asked the UP government to submit a response on public healthcare facilities, nutrition and hygiene. It will hear the matter again in July first week.

SC Identifies Missing Links

  • SC has sought details on efforts to improve medical care facilities, nutrition, and hygiene in Bihar. It called these areas the ‘missing links’
  • The top court has given Centre and Bihar a week’s time to respond. Meanwhile, deaths due to acute encephalitis syndrome in Bihar rose to 168 on Monday
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