As Bihar struggles to contain the outbreak of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, which has claimed the lives of 127 children so far, Odisha seems to have learnt its lesson following AES deaths in Malkangiri in 2016.
Timely precautionary measures by the State government have ensured no child has died due Japanese Encephalitis and AES in Malkangiri since 2017.
In 2016, at least 103 children had died due to JE and AES outbreak in the district, prompting the administration, health officials and locals to be more prepared against the two diseases. A majority of them had developed AES after consuming Cassia occidentalis beans, locally known as ‘bada chakunda’. Anthraquinone, a toxin found in the plant, was responsible for causing encephalopathy among the children in the district.
Dr. Shobha Malini, associate professor of community medicine at Saheed Laxman Nayak Medical College , Koraput, said strict watch was kept on AES-prone regions in Malkangiri ahead of the monsoon season. Cases of AES are usually reported in the beginning of monsoon and continue till October.
“A major preventive measure against AES is regular clearing of bushes of Cassia occidentalis plants and motivating tribals not to let their children eat beans of the plant,” said Dr. Ajit Kumar Mohanty, chief district medical officer, Malkangiri.
With the aid of village committees and health workers, tribals living in remote areas became aware of the dangers of consuming Cassia occidentalis and started taking precautions, the CDMO said.
Vaccination is a major weapon against AES. In December 2016, a 15-day-long mass vaccination programme against JE and AES was initiated in Malkangiri with the inoculation of over 2,18,000 children up to the age of five.
“Vaccination against JE and AES has been included in the immunisation programme for children throughout Odisha and children are being vaccinated against the same at nine months and 18 months. In Malkangiri, all children under the age of five are getting booster doses of the vaccine,” said Dr. Malini.
The district headquarter hospital in Malkangiri was renovated to have a six-bed ICU, a paediatric ward to accommodate 50 patients and four ventilators.
ASHA volunteers and Anganwadi workers were provided special kits to administer medication in case of emergency.