The Central government on July 3 informed the Supreme Court that it had decided to constitute an “inter-disciplinary, high quality” research team to ascertain the precise cause of the acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) outbreak that led to mass child deaths in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar.
In an 11-page affidavit, the Centre said the decision was taken to “save precious human lives in future”. The AES in Muzaffarpur dated back to 1995. Though 'health' was a State subject, it had taken “substantive measures” to support and guide the State government. It had been reviewing the situation, it pointed out.
On July 2, the State government defended its public health system in the top court, saying steps taken by its public health authorities had in fact lowered the AES fatality rate to 19%, much less than the global fatality rate of AES pegged at 30%.
A 23-page affidavit filed by the State government said that as of June 30, the total number of reported AES cases were 824 and 157 deaths recorded.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was “personally involved and actively engaged in finding ways and means to control and treat the dreaded AES disease,” it said.
The State was “waging a battle against the dreaded disease in order to protect and save precious human lives”. There was a “substantial reduction” in reported cases of AES. The credit for this went to the “constant and consistent efforts” taken by the government and, secondly, a “change in weather conditions,” it noted.
The affidavits come in response to the court’s June 24 order to provide details of of public medical care facilities, nutrition and sanitation/hygiene followed in the State. It was passed on a PIL filed by Manohar Pratap, who sought directions from the apex court in the light of the child deaths, including the constitution of a medical board, advertisement of preventive steps and improvement of infrastructure in the State.