A day after Republic TV broke the 2014 report stating the steps taken by the Centre and state government to control, prevent and tackle encephalitis, Union Health Minister Dr. Harshvardhan, on Wednesday, has said that the Centre is supporting the state with all facilities required to tackle the ongoing encephalitis epidemic which has claimed 140 children in Bihar, in conversation with Republic TV.
"Indian government is supporting the state in giving good treatment to the patients to contain the infection and is providing with pediatricians, epidemiologists, specialists, ICMR experts. When I had taken charge as Union Health Minister, within 4-5 days I had dispatched these facilities to tackle the epidemic as soon as early cases had been reported," he said.
Saying that while health is a state subject, he said that he himself has visited the state to ascertain the ground situation adding that it is the duty of the Centre to aid in a crisis.
"Health is a state subject. But when a crisis occurs, it is the duty of the Centre to extend its support. We had sent experts at the early stages and met with Bihar Health minister twice to discuss the needs required in the state. I myself visited Muzaffarpur on June 16 and observed 100 children myself," he added.
Talking about 2014, when he held the post of Union Health Minister for five months, he said that he had started the vaccination process in Muzaffarpur. He was succeeded by current BJP working president JP Nadda, who held the post till 2019 before Dr. Harshvardhan was appointed again as the health minister.
"In 2014, I handled the Health ministry only for five months before being given the responsibility of the Science and Technology ministry. I had visited Muzaffarpur for 3 days then and visited hospitals and started the vaccination process myself," he said.
Admitting that the suggestions he had given in 2014 to improve the health infrastructure in Bihar had not been implemented, he reiterated that he had again suggested the establishment of a separate research center to ascertain the cause.
"State government is also doing its best. I have not just visited the 100 children, I have studied their cases and talked to their parents. While I had previously suggested that a state of the art Pediatric ICU should be installed, I saw in my recent visit that they (state hospital) had carved out a special Pediatric ICU in the existing infrastructure itself. As Muzaffarpur is endemic area, I again suggested that they should create a separate center now within a year as it has not been established according to my previous suggestion," he said.
In similar lines to the Bihar government, he too said that the exact cause of the disease is unknown and needs research.
"The causes of this disease is still unknown. There are multiple causes - bacterial, viral. It is important that along with treatment, research should also be done so that this disease can be controlled permanently," he added.
Talking about the current measures taken by the Centre he said:
"I had said this in 2014 and repeated in 2019 that atleast two interdisciplinary research centers have to be established which will constantly do research till we reach the exact cause of the disease. My team is currently working on establishing the same in Bihar. I had asked them to start 5 virology labs, and they have established one. The lab at Muzaffarpur has not been started as of yet."
"I have stationed my joint secretary there to coordinate the implementation of my suggestions. This has been a yearly trend that a lot of children have fallen ill due to this disease. While the state government is already doing a lot, I have given all my suggestions and am continuously monitoring."
Failing to promise the implementation of all his suggestions, he finally said that people should not play politics over such a serious epidemic and that the media too should play a constructive role in solving the problem.
"I am requesting all the people who are playing politics over this and media which is sensationalizing the situation to not do such things and play a constructive role in solving the problem," he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, investigating the major medical disaster currently plaguing Bihar, where Acute Encephalitis Syndrome(AES) has currently claimed the lives of 140 children in Bihar, Republic TV, on Tuesday, has accessed excerpts of a 2014 report prepared by the Bihar government of the pledge promised by the Centre and state government to fight Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES).
Currently, the death toll in Muzaffarpur district has reached 112 with the administration under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar blaming it on excessive heat and humidity, hypoglycemia, eating litchis on an empty stomach. However, despite the disease affecting the state every year, the questions as to why the state or Centre failed to combat this illness remains unanswered inspite of claiming to have executed the above-mentioned steps to prevent, control and tackle AES.