The deaths of children hit by encephalitis in Bihar is being underplayed by the government and that is understandable. But the episode being underreported by the media is puzzling. They have not made front-page news or produced editorials. Nor have they become a topic for ‘panel discussions’ on prime-time television. May be, it is still a ‘developing story’. Anyway, they are a sad commentary on the abysmal state of food security and health care systems in the state. It would be a betrayal of humanity to ignore them, develop a sort of mental resistance to them or accept them as normal state of affairs in our country.
The central government has a convenient excuse — the state machinery could not undertake awareness drives because of election-related work. Clearly, the victims were undernourished infants from impoverished families. These are all avoidable deaths caused by chronic malnutrition and woefully inadequate health care. Much was promised under food security and health care, but little has been delivered.
In a state like Kerala with high human development indices, mass infant deaths like that in Muzaffarpur, do not occur. There is no reason why Bihar cannot take Kerala as a model and improve its public health care delivery system. Saving the lives of children is an enormous task in the present social and economic context. Needless to say, it must get priority.
G David Milton, Maruthancode
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