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Oct 20, 2011 at 10:26pm IST

UP: Parties play politics as encephalitis kills babies

New Delhi: Following CNN-IBN's continuing focus on encephalitis in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi on Thursday asked Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh to visit the state and asses the situation.

More than 400 children have died so far this year in a problem that's gone for decades. Eight children have died at the BRD medical college in Gorakhpur in the last 48 hours.

"We have sent all the seniors officers here and there were positive results. I am here for two days and will talk to officials," said Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Azad finally found time to visit the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur, where 350 children and 150 adults have died in the last two months.

There were two or more children on each bed in the BRD Medical College and less than 40 doctors to look after 500 critical patients.

But it wasn't the lack of infrastructure on the agenda - but politics.

For Rahul Gandhi, who is visiting Amethi, what could be a better opportunity than this to embarrass UP Chief Minister Mayawati on the health crisis with elections nearing. Moreover, Mayawati inaugurated her Rs 683 crore park in Noida last week even as children continue to die in her state.

"It will continue until a national health programme is made. We had discussed for 40 minutes with the Health Minister but failed to convince him on the issue," said encephalitis expert Dr RN Singh.

The Center has often accused the Mayawati government of not utilising funds allocated to the state - adding that there is little they can do since health is a state subject. But if the Centre could successfully control a disease like polio, why can it not do the same for encephalitis - a virus that has claimed 50,000 children in 33 years alone in eastern UP?