The Bihar government on Tuesday defended its public health system in the Supreme Court, days after mass child deaths due to acute encephalitis syndrome (AES), saying steps taken by the State’s public health authorities had in fact lowered the AES fatality rate to 19%, far lower than the global fatality rate pegged at 30%.
A 23-page affidavit filed by the State said as of June 30, the total number of reported AES cases in the State are 824 and there have been 157 deaths recorded.
The affidavit said Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is “personally involved and actively engaged in finding ways and means to control and treat the dreaed AES disease in Bihar”.
The State said it is “waging a battle against the dreaded AES in order to protect and save precious human lives”.
The affidavit claims a “substantial reduction” in reported AES cases. The credit for this goes to the “constant and consistent efforts” taken by the government and, a “change in weather” it said.
On one hand while the State said the “sustained efforts in the recent past to control the incidence of AES has shown some positive results with reduction of numbers of patients and casualties”, it adds the rider that “the problem of AES cases still persist”.
The affidavit is in response to the Supreme Court’s June 24 order to the State to provide details of of public medical care facilities, nutrition and sanitation/hygiene followed in the State. The order was passed on a PIL filed by Manohar Pratap, who has sought various directions from the apex court in the light of the child deaths, including constitution of a medical board, advertisement of preventive steps, improvement of infrastructure, etc, in the State.
The affidavit said the State’s percentage of “stunted, wasted and anemic children” is 48.3%, 20.8% and 63.5%, respectively. But the government attempts to strike a optimistic tone over its work, saying “Bihar is continuously working on eradication of malnutrition and to provide sanitation in the State, particularly in rural areas”.
The State said it has already taken preventive steps by providing additional medical facilities at AES affected regions, including public awareness campaigns at the village levels involving various agencies.
As proof that the Bihar government has been “genuinely concerned” with the problem of AES disease and its effect in recent years, the affidavit said a Standard Operating Procedure, formulated in 2012 after deliberations of Group of Ministers, was revised in 2018.