In a state with the country’s largest number of murders and violent crimes, mosquitos still take far more lives of children than bullets and daggers. They also incite good old politics.
In Gorakhpur, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travels on Tuesday, more than 24,000 children have been affected and almost 7,000 killed over three decades by the Japanese Encephalitis (JE) virus, mostly in the past few years. This has pitted the Samajwadi Party against the Congress, and brought the disease to the centrestage of politics in recent years.
“We have to free this city of mosquitos and the mafia” was a recent campaign slogan of the Hindu Mahasabha, the party of Hindu guru Mahant Adityanath. “Encephalitis has become a political disease,” said a senior medical official who declined to be named.
Political squabbling has continued since 2005, when about 1,135 people died of the disease, which is caused by mosquitos breeding in stagnant water and carried by pigs. That number is many times the 390 children killed that year in violent crimes.
A helicopter offered by Rahul Gandhi for aerial fogging could not take off because the state government refused it permission, saying chemicals would harm crops and animals. Since then, the Mulayam Singh Yadav government has repeatedly ignored demands from scientists that pig farms be removed from towns and villages. The reason, critics say, is politics. “Gorakhpur has 1,300 pig farms, run mainly by members of the lower castes. Such a move would upset the votebank, so it was not done,” said Dr. B.B.Gupta, a doctor who led a public campaign to raise awareness about JE.
Mulayam says he has set up a viral research centre, surveillance centre, epidemic ward and widespread training of doctors. But most of the paraphernalia is not ready, and there is no staff.
Inputs from Harshvardhan Shahi, Abdur Rehman