Gorakhpur: Over 400 children died in 2012 due to the encephalitis epidemic in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Finally, the government is waking up to the crisis. The Cabinet will meet on Thursday morning and the agenda will be implementation of prevention and control of the disease.
There are major challenges for the government ahead. With children on ventilator support, desperate parents running out of hope and doctors fighting against all odds, the encephalitis ward in Gorakhpur's BRD medical college is used to death. While there are three deaths on an average every day, over 350 have died in the ward in 2012.
Of the 480 children admitted, half had symptoms of acute encephalitis - high fever, vomitting and convulsion. Sixteen-month-old Mahima was one of them. Her body shakes involuntarily, it's a sign that the fever has damaged her brain.
In another ward lies 10-year-old Pankaj, who like everyone else, shares his bed with two other children. But the actual problem of the hospital is not space crunch; it is the shortage of doctors. While a 100-bed facility is under construction in the hospital for patients with encephalitis, there are just 10 senior doctors to attend them, which means one doctor for every 40 children.
"We are weak, we are poor, so no one listens to us. If a neta (politician) comes then 10 doctors and CMO will come and make good arrangements for his treatment. But because we are poor, no one listens to us," says Pankaj's father Suresh Sharma.
"Majority of the temporary post for encephalitis are lying vacant as doctors do not want to join here and even if they do, they leave the place because of the pressure," says BRD Medical College Principal Dr KP Khushawa. Even after Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav sanctioned projects worth Rs 600 crore for the cause, it doesn't seem to have helped much.
An hour's drive from Gorakhpur is a place called Kothai, where 250 children have died in the last six years because of mosquito and water-born encephalitis. More than half the children in the village are malnourished and clean drinking water is a luxury for them with 120 of the 200 India mark hand pumps not working in the area. The water tank that was to supply drinking water to the village is no where near ready even five years after it was sanctioned and it's contractor, an accused in the Rs 6,000 crore NRHM scam is on the run. Making the situation worse, the primary health care center of the village - the first access to treatment for the poor - was found locked when the CNN-IBN team reached there at 4 pm.
"There is no clean drinking water here, no electricity, no medicine. How can we believe that money has been sanctioned for us? The money comes on paper and is spent on paper. Maybe it is spent in Lucknow but it is surely not spent in my village," says former sarpanch of Kothai, Om Prakash Shahani.
But it is Panwati's story which actually tells how deep the rust runs in India's public health care system. The woman's six-month-old grandson Happy died because no doctor attended on him. The child was burning with fever when Panwati took him to the community health centre but they were turned away by the doctor there. She then went to the the district hospital, where she says the doctor had gone for lunch and when he returned, hald an hour later, her grandson had died by then. "If the doctor had not gone for lunch, maybe my child would have survived," says Panwati.