As Bihar grapples with Acute Encephalitis Syndrome that has claimed 130 lives so far, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Tuesday decided to constitute a permanent multi-disciplinary group of experts at the Centre to monitor and formulate measures to be taken up in the event of such an outbreak.
The central group will comprise experts from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), World Health Organisation (WHO), Ministry of Science and Technology and Ministry of Women and Child Development along with experts of meteorology, nutrition and agricultural science.
Harsh Vardhan also chaired a meeting of experts who deliberated upon the factors causing high child mortality in the reported Acute Encephalitis Syndrome/ (AES/JE) cases in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar and the immediate measures to be taken up to prevent them.
“We discussed the socio-economic profile of the households which have reported such cases, their nutrition profiles, ongoing heatwave, reported high percentage of hypoglycemia in children who have died, prevailing health infrastructure in the district and other factors that could significantly be considered in these cases,” the minister said.
Senior officers from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Women and Child Development, experts from AIIMS, NCDC, ICMR, Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP), WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were present at the meeting.
Measures to further strengthen the health infrastructure, need for an aggressive awareness campaign to prevent these cases and strengthening the research base to provide sound knowledge on the causes of mortality, active collaboration between state and central governments with experts and researchers were some of the other crucial discussion points.
“In the spirit of collaborative and cooperative federalism, the Centre is actively supporting the Bihar government in immediate measures to contain AES/JE and also to search for long term solutions through evidence generated by sound research.
“Two central multi-disciplinary teams are already stationed in Bihar and supporting the government presently. Senior officers of the Union Health Ministry are in regular communication with the state government and providing all needed technical and other support,” Vardhan assured.
The Health Minister said the permanent multi-disciplinary expert group will meet regularly during the year to monitor recommendations of the two central expert teams presently stationed in Muzaffarpur and deliberate upon their findings and suggestions received from other experts in the matter.
Harsh Vardhan on Sunday visited the families of the children suffering from suspected AES in Bihar and deployed another high-level multi-disciplinary team at the state. The team will undertake the necessary ground work for setting up state-of-the-art multi-disciplinary research centre at Muzaffarpur, the ministry had said in a statement.
The death toll in AES cases in Bihar has climbed to 130 with both the SKMCH hospital and the privately owned Kejriwal hospital in the state reporting one casualty during the night, officials said.
The symptoms of AES include high fever, convulsions and extremely low level of sugar in the blood. Among the factors said to trigger the syndrome are malnutrition. Moreover, the litchi grown in Muzaffarpur is said to contain a toxin which can cause a drop in blood sugar levels if consumed by a malnourished child.