Brain fever killed 6,500 kids across India, reveals RTI

New Delhi: Acute Encephalitis Syndrome and Japanese Encephalitis fast spreading beyond four most-hit states Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and West Bengal. Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) and Japanese Encephalitis (JE), the killer diseases (common known as brain fever), are no longer restricted to just pockets in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and West Bengal. The diseases are spreading fast and many cases are being reported from as many as 20 states, information obtained under Right to Information Act by dna has revealed. In the last five years, India has lost more than 6,500 children who died due to AES and JE, the RTI has revealed.

During this period, about 35,000 AES and 500 JE cases were reported. While the above four states reported the bulk of cases, the new 16 states reported 7,000 cases in this period. Unfortunately, this number is increasing year on year. AES/JE are a group of neurological diseases, caused by a wide range of viruses, bacterias, fungi, parasites, chemicals and toxins. The diseases affect dhildern the most.

When asked under RTI about the various steps taken by the government for prevention and control of AES/ JE, Dr Sukhvir Singh, joint director, National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme gave a detailed reply by which it is clear that the focus is still on just on four affected states. In these states, the government has opened vaccination campaigns, sentinel laboratories, treatment facilities among others.

The reply says that in November 2011, the government of India had constituted a group of ministers to evolve and suggest a multi-proloned strategy to deal with JE and AES encompassing preventive sanitation, safe drinking water, improvement in nutrition, etc), case management and rehabilitation. There were several meetings of this group of ministers since then but the focus has remained on these four states, copy of the minutes of the meeting revealed.

Last week, on January 7, 2015, Union minister for health and family welfare J P Nadda chaired a high-level inter-ministerial meeting of secretaries/senior officials from participating ministries of the government of India, as also health secretaries of five states most affected by JE/AES — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and Tamil Nadu. The minister emphasised that the stakeholders do everything in their means to prevent deaths due to JE and AES. The ministers pointed out that clean drinking water is a key requirement and for this purpose he urged that the states to make full use of the funding made available by the department of drinking water & supply.

This shows that Tamil Nadu is the only new addition and still 15 states are missing.

“Apart from the known states, the government needs to really focus is Jharkhand, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. In these states a large number of AES/JE cases are being reported. We are slowly begining the realise the importance of focusing on these states as well,” said a source in the ministry of health and Family Welfare, who is not authorised to speak to the media.

Despite focusing on these known states for last several years, the government has not been able to control it. In fact, the the number of children who died doubled from 791 in 2010 to 1,475 in 2013. Till August 2014, the number of childern who died had reached 1,057 already.

While several childern die due to AES/JE diseases, since the virus attacks the brain, a large number of children affected by JE and AES become disabled suffering from physical, mental and neurological disorders. Even, Nadda emphasised this point last week. He said that the district disability rehabilitation centre (DDRC) should be made fully functional so that these childen can be helped out.

Deaths by Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) and Japanese Encephalitis (JE)
2010 679 122
2011 1169 181
2012 1256 140
2013 1273 202
2014 (Till 19.08.2014) 861 196