During his first visit to Bihar as Union minister for health and family welfare, Dr Harsh Vardhan on Sunday accepted that the disease sweeping north Bihar was a ‘mystery’, the cause and etiology of which was unknown.
The disease that has already claimed the lives of 140 children this year has caused panic in the medical circles. “It is beyond scientific and medical control,” the minister said. “I have come to the conclusion that it cannot be said with 100% surety, that this is the acute encephalitis syndrome (AES), or Japanese encephalitis, that doctors suspected it to be,” he added.
The children, mainly in the age group of 3 to 14, have died of the disease that manifests itself in severe fever, partial paralysis, body aches, vomiting, nausea and ultimately death.
Vardhan said, “I can only say, that the treatment has to be largely symptomatic in this case, when the scientific reasons remain unknown”.
Asked who was to be blamed for the deaths, he said, “I do not blame anybody. The CDC, Atlanta finding says, the disease may be due to metabolic, toxic or nutritional deficiency, which may have triggered it, but it was difficult to pinpoint the actual cause at this time”.
Vardhan also launched a two-day vaccination campaign in Muzaffarpur district and assured the Centre’s plan to come up with a comprehensive idea to eradicate leprosy, filarial, measles and kala-azar on the lines of the polio campaign.He said, a model rural health research unit on kala-azar would be set up in Muzaffarpur district as Bihar and northern districts of the state contribute to 80% of the cases worldwide.
He said, “We are going to set up two multi-disciplinary research units-one each at Muzaffarpur and Darbhanga to study the disease.”
He added that a 100-bed pediatric ICU would soon be set up at the Shri Krishna Medical College Hospital, Muzaffarpur and the Medical Council of India would be requested to increase the seats from the existing 150 to 250.
He also announced setting up of five virological diagnostic laboratories at Gaya, Bhagalpur, Bettiah, Pawapuri and Nalanda, which all have medical colleges with central funding.