The disease has claimed 861 lives so far with 470 in U.P. alone
Concerned over the high mortality and morbidity because of Japanese encephalitis (JE) and acute encephalitis syndrome (AES), the Group of Ministers (GoM) held its first meeting here on Monday to discuss short, medium and long-term measures needed to deal with the disease. Already 861 lives have been lost to the disease – with over 470 in eastern Uttar Pradesh alone.
The disease has been reported from the national capital for the first time with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare confirming five cases of JE/AES here.
The GoM, constituted earlier this month, agreed to involve the Ministries of Human Resource Development and Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (HUPA) to tackle the disease, which has become an annual affair in Poorvanchal since 2005.
The disease is now being reported from 135 districts of 17 States, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal in addition to the northern belt.
The Centre wants the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to conduct a systematic survey to estimate disability burden, establish rehabilitation units at district level, set up special schools for mentally challenged children in JE/AES-affected areas and fix monthly compensation for below poverty line families having children with disabilities due to JE/AES.
The disease affects mostly children below the age of 15 years, of which 25 per cent die, and among the survivors about 30-40 per cent suffer from physical and mental impairment. Between 70 and 75 per cent of the cases are from Uttar Pradesh.
Headed by Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, the GoM comprises Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath; Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation, and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh; Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Mukul Wasnik and Minister of State for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath.
The four Ministers, barring Mr. Kamal Nath, who attended the first meeting, agreed that schools could be used as platforms for the vaccination drives while HUPA would be involved in checking the spread of the disease in urban slums.
The GoM was in agreement on the issue that a “multi-pronged strategy encompassing prevention, case management and rehabilitation measures are needed to deal with it.'' This could be implemented only through the active engagement of various Ministries.
Provision of nutrition for infants and children and sensitisation of anganwadi workers and their supervisors is expected from the Ministry of Women and Child Development while the Urban Development Ministry is to provide safe water and sanitation for people in urban slums.
The GoM wants the Ministry of Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation to provide safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities in the affected and high-risk districts, in addition to strengthening measures for monitoring water quality and replacement of shallow hand pumps in AES-affected districts as the virus spreads by contaminated water. The overall development of the area and provision for alternate economic activities for the people engaged in pig rearing has been entrusted to the Rural Development Minister.
On its part, the Health Ministry will strengthen and expand the JE vaccination project, improve the case management capability at the district hospitals and medical colleges, including medical rehabilitation.