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Updated: October 29, 2012 18:14 IST

Deadly disease, desperate measures

Aarti Dhar
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At risk: Malnourished babies. Photo: Subir Roy
The Hindu
At risk: Malnourished babies. Photo: Subir Roy

The government has approved a Rs. 4,038 crore programme to tackle the Japanese encephalitis and acute encephalitis syndrome in 60 priority districts

With thousands of young lives being lost and an equal number of children rendered disabled for life, the government has prepared a comprehensive strategy to tackle Japanese encephalitis (JE) and acute encephalitis syndrome (AES). The dreaded disease has already spread to 17 States affecting 171 districts.

With the Cabinet approving the Rs. 4,038-crore programme of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to tackle the disease, the government has decided to implement the plan in 60 priority districts with high disease burden for the next five years from 2012-13 to 2016-17.

The ambitious strategy involves the Ministries of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Social Justice and Empowerment, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Women and Child Development which have been given separate schemes to be implemented.

While the largest chunk of the funds will go to the Drinking Water and Sanitation Development Ministry, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will be responsible for strengthening of public health activities and vaccination.

The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has been allotted Rs. 750.23 crore for replacing shallow public hand pumps with deep bore pumps and solid and liquid waste management. It has been further given Rs. 1,551 crore to incentivise and provide credit to households for construction and usage of sanitation facilities at homes, in schools and other government buildings in addition to creating awareness on hygiene.

With its allocation of Rs. 1,131 crore, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will strengthen hospitals and public health facilities in 60 priority districts, including establishing pediatric ICUs, set up 20 new JE/AES surveillance sites and counselling centres.

On its part, the Ministry will set up and operate 15 new rehabilitation centres for disabled children in four States at an estimated cost of Rs 9.18 crore while the Ministry of Women and Child Development will train and sensitise anganwadi workers and their supervisors regarding JE/AES. The Ministry will also provide Take Home Ration (THR) to moderately undernourished children in 60 districts. THR is usually given to pregnant and lactating women, children from six months of age to three years and severely malnourished children as they do not attend the anganwadi centres on a daily basis. The Centre has fixed the per beneficiary cost, calorie and protein norm to be maintained across the States.

Last year, the killer diseases claimed 1,169 lives, and so far this year, 967 deaths have been reported with Uttar Pradesh alone accounting for 362 deaths. Tamil Nadu has reported 40 deaths and 541 cases. Of the total disease burden, 75 per cent in 2010 and 50 per cent in 2011 is in Uttar Pradesh.

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 to 75 per cent of the cases are from Uttar Pradesh, primarily because the BRD Hospital and Medical College is the only institution in the region equipped to deal with JE cases.

While JE is caused by a virus which is transmitted through mosquitoes, AES is an enteroviral infection transmitted through contaminated water. Undernourished children with low immunity levels become easy targets of the virus.

The States where the disease has spread to are Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Goa, Delhi, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Manipur, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Nagaland.

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