Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar visited a hospital in Muzaffarpur Tuesday, as the number of children dying from encephalitis rose to 127. Kumar met with chants of ‘Nitish go back’ by angry protesters. The JDU-BJP government is under fire for its alleged failure to control the outbreak, with no clarity still on what caused it – heat stroke or a toxin found in litchi fruit.
ThePrint asks: Encephalitis deaths: Political opportunism trumping governance in Nitish Kumar’s Bihar?
Encephalitis epidemic is certainly a challenge but we will do what we can to protect Bihar’s children
The Bihar government is doing the best they can to control the epidemic and ensure that the affected are getting the treatment they deserve. For the past week, members of the state government have been visiting Muzaffarpur to make sure that the conditions are conducive to treat the affected individuals and all the requirements are met. Union health minister Harsh Vardhan and Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey are all looking after the situation in Muzaffarpur. Today, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also visited Muzaffarpur to take stock of the situation.
The opposition has no right to raise fingers at us and call it an administrative failure. RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav has been missing since the Lok Sabha election results on 23 May.
As far as politics is concerned, it is unfair to say that governance is taking a back seat in Bihar. Nitish Kumar hasn’t been winning elections without doing any work — the JD(U) has been working for many years towards Bihar’s development. The elections were fought and won on the plank of vikas (development) and we will continue to make sure we deliver on our promises. The encephalitis epidemic is certainly a challenge for the Bihar government, but we will do whatever we can to safeguard the welfare and safety of the state’s children.
JDU-BJP coalition in Bihar has sensed it can win elections without addressing issues like health and education
It is a well-known fact that the entire corridor from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh to Muzaffarpur in Bihar is prone to encephalitis. In 2014, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan had announced the creation of 100 additional beds in the paediatric ward of Shri Krishna Medical College and Hospital, but that promise remains unfulfilled to date.
Medical intervention primarily includes two important aspects – preventive care and post-diagnosis treatment. The healthcare system in Bihar has failed the children on both counts.
The opposition in Bihar has ensured the children’s deaths is not politicised. But it has become very clear now that Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) doesn’t care about these administrative failures anymore. The JDU-BJP coalition has realised that they can win elections without paying any attention towards issues like health and education. People may not have voted on issues of livelihood like unemployment and agrarian crisis in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but the JDU-BJP government’s blatant disregard for governance right after a grand victory was unexpected and completely unacceptable.
Just to give an example of how insensitive this government is – health minister Mangal Pandey was enquiring about the score of India-Pakistan cricket World Cup match during a meeting held to discuss the encephalitis emergency, which has so far claimed lives of about 125 children.
Instead of blame-game politics, political class and civil society must join hands to contain this crisis in Bihar
Fellow, India Foundation and member, BJP
With more than 100 children largely below the age of ten passing away due to severe brain fever in Muzaffarpur and further unfortunate deaths across the state owing to the unprecedented rise in temperature, this has been a regrettable fortnight for the state of Bihar. Many speculative reports indicating the causes of deaths of children have come out but the fundamental question on the status of healthcare facilities is still a looming concern. The state is in dire need of a transformative change in the healthcare ecosystem. Apart from policy perspective, a fool-proof robust strategy to deal with the crisis of malnourishment among the children is also required.
According to a report, most of the children who have died belong to the poorest of the poor Musahar and other Dalit communities. Malnutrition has been an essential issue for the socially and economically marginalised sections. Following decades of misrule under Lalu Prasad, a lot has been done in connectivity sectors though creation of physical infrastructure, rural electrification, education and the largely undisturbed law and order situation. I am sure both the Union and state governments will work together and turn this crisis into an opportunity to create a long-term and sustainable healthcare system in Bihar.
Instead of playing the blame game politics over the death of children, the political class and civil society must come together and develop an actionable plan to immediately contain the catastrophe.
Bihar administration was taken by a complete surprise this year, after fall in encephalitis cases in last 5 years
Prabhat Kumar Sinha
Former dean (research), Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Patna
It would be wrong to term the deaths due to encephalitis a governance failure. The number of encephalitis cases in Bihar have been going down in the last five years, and there were very few cases reported last year. This means that the administration and hospitals have prepared themselves adequately to deal with the issue.
However, this year’s epidemic of encephalitis is something that no one saw coming. In cases of such epidemics, there is very little that can be done. There are certain geographical factors, and other prevailing health conditions that contribute to the infection. It has now also been learnt that eating lychees on empty stomachs is one of the causes.
As far as the question of inadequate hospital beds is concerned, the narrative being peddled isn’t true. The SKMCH hospital in Muzaffarpur is MCI-approved and all the number of beds they have meet the requirement.
In cases of emergency, such as this one, makeshift arrangements have to be made. They have to install temporary structures to put up with the sudden influx of patients. For instance, after the Gujarat earthquake, many NGO organisations volunteered to put up beds in hospitals for the injured.
One needs to look into why the trend, which showed a gradual reduction of encephalitis cases, was defied this year. The administration was taken by a complete surprise with the encephalitis cases.
Nitish Kumar’s development miracles were exaggerated just like Lalu Prasad’s misgovernance tales
Editor (Opinion), ThePrint
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s vikas purush image was a product of political spin from the beginning. It was cooked up to counter the years of Lalu Prasad Yadav politics and as a foil to the narrative of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat model. In 2012, even RSS’ Mohan Bhagwat spoke of the Modi model in Gujarat and the Nitish model in Bihar as examples of good governance.
Nitish Kumar’s image as a development man was also a creation of global NGOs because he smartly targeted freebies to teenage girls – bicycles, uniforms, sanitary pads – to boost their school attendance.
But his development miracles were exaggerated. Just like Lalu Prasad Yadav’s misgovernance tales were. The state’s electricity problems or lack of investment were unaddressed. It suffered from chronic shortage of doctors, anesthetists, nurses and health workers. The Bill Gates Foundation created much hype teaming with Bihar to train and create an army of health workers.
First the horrific mid-day meal deaths of children blew apart Nitish Kumar’s ‘good governance’ claim. And now, the toll of children dying of encephalitis mounts. Outsourcing governance to global health NGOs cannot fill the gap when the leader would rather spend time and energy plotting his next political switch.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint.