At least 350 children have died due to Encephalitis in Gorakhpur in Eastern Uttar Pradesh this year with the figure likely to cross the 500 mark by November end.
While the epidemic strikes 135 districts across 17 states every year, more than 70 percent of these cases are reported from Uttar Pradesh alone.
According to Dr RN Singh, convener of the encephalitis eradication movement, lack of political will to fight the epidemic is the core issue. "The government has time to look at Food Security Bill, Right to Education. But who will use these facilities where children are dying due to encephalitis," he said.
Speaking to CNN-IBN, Singh said the government's focus should not be limited to treatment. "Question is not only of treatment... why shouldn't we give more importance to prevention? Nothing has changed.. the death toll is likely to reach 500 by November end."
The Union government constituted a GoM on the issue and sanction Rs 4000 crore to fight the epidemic but little has changed on the ground.
Vice President of Public Health Foundation Ramanan Laxminarayan was of the opinion that the government should improve its vaccination programme and also ensure better civic facilities.
Speaking during a discussion on CNN-IBN, Laxminarayan said, "without improvement in sanitation and public health infrastructure, there is little that can be done. "The government should focus on core issues.. stop open defecation, no vaccine or anti-biotic will stop it."
Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, however, said there was little the union government could do.
We have walked the extra mile and sanctioned money for facilities at hospitals.. we even assisted state govts in providing better water facilities.. these are things they should have been doing. We need active cooperation from state governments.. We need to ensure 100 percent vaccination and this cannot be only on paper," Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told CNN-IBN.
In the last 33 years, 50,000 people have died in UP alone, mostly children. The only available vaccine is for Japanese encephalitis, which accounts for only 10 to 12 percent of the cases in Gorakhpur.
In 2011, the central government had sanction Rs 23 crore for a 100-bed ward at the BRD medical hospital, exclusively meant for encephalitis, but it is still under construction. Lack of doctors and beds still remains a concern.