Bihar AES deaths: A hundred deaths, and no answers -Jacob Koshy

-The Hindu

Cases of acute encephalitis syndrome have seen a spike in Muzaffarpur this year, already claiming more than a hundred lives. Jacob Koshy reports on the appalling state of health care in Bihar, even as the debate on what is causing the deaths rages on

For three days, Bihari Mahato and Shyam Babu Saha’s families have shared a hospital bed. The two daily-wage labourers, who have had to give up work for three days, haven’t exchanged a word, though they have much in common. Both have a boy and a girl each. And their children are battling for life.

Sundar, Mahato’s three-and-a-half-year-old son, is naked, emaciated, delirious and has a distended stomach. Himanshi, six months old and in a striped shirt and shorts, looks bigger and healthier than Sundar. She sleeps longer — fitfully, her mother Vimla says. Both families are from different districts of Bihar. Mahato is from Muzaffarpur and Saha is from Sitamarhi district. Their children were suddenly taken ill. When the children were convulsing and feverish, they were rushed to the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur. The doctors noted that their blood sugar had dropped precipitously.

Both children are being given dextrose saline (a sugar solution often administered intravenously), but their parents are nervous. “The fever has subsided but it keeps returning,” says Saha. “The doctors aren’t paying us much attention.” But that’s a quibble given that many other ailing children are sprawled out on mattresses on the floor. Amidst peeling plaster, strewn banana peels, stomping doctors, nurses, journalists and television crew, the children’s ward at SKMCH is symptomatic of the confusion and panic that has gripped Muzaffarpur since early June.

The floor above the general ward is home to the Intensive Care Units (ICUs). Each of the five ICUs has eight beds. Not one of the beds has fewer than three children hooked to bleeping monitors and intravenous lines. Unusually for an ICU, there’s little restriction on non-hospital staff shuttling in and out, but unlike the squalid paediatric wards below, there are no patients sprawled on the floor. The floor is clean, the air-conditioners work, the nurses are extra vigilant, and yet here’s where death lurks around the corner.

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The Hindu, 22 June, 2019, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/a-hundred-deaths-and-no-answers/article28102769.ece?homepage=true

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