Six more children died in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district on Monday, taking the toll due to suspected Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) to 103 and prompting the state government to announce a slew of measures to tackle the situation.
According to a release issued by the district administration, 18 deaths were reported from the Kejriwal hospital and 85 from the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH), where Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had visited the patients on Sunday and assured their families of all possible help from the Centre.
While doctors have maintained that the deaths occurred due to AES, state officials claimed that most of the victims, below the age of 10, have died due to hypoglycemia -- a condition caused by low level of blood sugar, electrolyte imbalance due to high temperature and extreme humidity.
On Monday, five more children died at the SKMCH and one at the Kejriwal hospital, while the condition of 12 patients at the two hospitals was stated to be serious, the release said.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan reviewed the situation at a high-level meeting in New Delhi, which was attended by senior officers of the Health Ministry, Indian Council of Medical Research and the AIIMS.
Vardhan directed another high-level team to immediately visit the district and undertake necessary groundwork for the setting up of a state-of-the-art multidisciplinary research centre, according to a statement.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sent notices to the Union Health Ministry and the Bihar government over the deaths. It observed that despite reported measures taken by the government agencies, deaths of children in such large number indicated a possible flaw in the implementation of vaccination and awareness programmes.
Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar said no clear cause of deaths could be ascertained so far and indicated that one of the reasons could be that no rainfall, even pre-monsoon rain, occurred in the district this year.
The chief secretary said the government had also decided to send a team to each household, where children died due to suspected AES cases, in order to find out their social and economic background,
The purpose, he said, was to find out whether the deaths had any link with the background of the deceased families.
The official was speaking to reporters after a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on deaths from suspected AES cases and people dying due to heatwave.
The state government would bear the cost of treatment of the affected children and reimburse the people reaching hospital by private vehicles if they do not get the ambulance facility, which is free, the official said.
The chief secretary stated that all the primary health centres (PHC) had been activated, adding that the units were equipped with administering saline and glucose.
He emphasised on the need to create awareness to prevent the disease and said children should be given ORS, should not be made to sleep with an empty stomach and reach the PHC as soon as possible.
The chief secretary, however, claimed that the percentage of deaths vis-a-vis the number of admissions of children in hospitals had declined to 26 per cent this year, which he said was 35-36 per cent in earlier.
He added that the India Meteorological Department had said the heatwave conditions would continue for the next two days in various parts of the state. The department has forecast rainfall and thunderstorm on Wednesday in parts of the state.