'Deaths of children can't go on in Bihar,' says SC on encephalitis outbreak in Muzaffarpur; state says 'under control' after nearly 130 kids die

The Supreme Court on Monday issued a notice to the Bihar government, seeking a detailed explanation on the death of nearly 130 children in Muzaffarpur district due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). It also issued a notice to the Centre and the governments of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, asking them to file affidavits within seven days on the adequacy of medical facilities, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene conditions in the state.

Expressing serious concern about the outbreak of brain fever in the North Bihar district, the court said, "Deaths of children cannot go on in Bihar."

 Deaths of children cant go on in Bihar, says SC on encephalitis outbreak in Muzaffarpur; state says under control after nearly 130 kids die

File photo of child affected by suspected Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. AFP

"Several issues require answers. The government has to take action," the vacation bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice BR Gavai said, directing the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar to inform the court about the steps taken to check the death of children due to encephalitis in Muzaffarpur.

According to News18, the Bihar government now has 10 days to submit a detailed affidavit on the measures taken to contain the spread of encephalitis and prevent the death of more children. The affidavit has to mention all actions taken by the government so far and the circumstances, including relief measures, rehabilitation and compensation.

In court, the Bihar government assured the bench that it is taking all necessary steps to control the outbreak of encephalitis in Muzaffarpur, claiming that the situation was "absolutely" under control.

The vacation bench had agreed to hear the Public Interest Litigation after the petitioner's counsel sought an urgent listing of the matter. The plea claimed that the measures taken by the Bihar government were inappropriate and inadequate to control the outbreak of encephalitis in Muzaffarpur, seeking appropriate directions from the court in this regard. The petition had also sought a direction to the Centre to ensure that all necessary medical equipment and other support are provided for the effective treatment of the children suffering from encephalitis.

The petition, filed by advocate Manohar Pratap, claimed that he was deeply pained and saddened by the deaths of more than 129 children, mostly in the age group of one to 10 years, in the past week.

"The deaths of children are a direct result of negligence and inaction on the part of the respective state governments of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Union of India in handling the epidemical situation that arises every year due to the outbreak of encephalitis," the plea said, adding that thousands of young children were losing their lives yearly from the disease, but governments had done nothing to prevent its spread.

A regular bench will hear the matter again after 10 days when the Supreme Court resumes operation after vacation.

Symptoms of encephalitis include high fever, convulsions and extremely low blood sugar levels. Among the factors said to trigger the syndrome are malnutrition.

There were more than 44,000 cases and nearly 6,000 deaths from encephalitis in India between 2008 and 2014, said a 2017 study published in The Indian Journal of Medical Research.

Researchers said encephalitis patients often report acute onset of fever and altered consciousness, with a rapidly deteriorating clinical course, leading to death within hours.

Lychees grown in Muzaffarpur, the country's largest lychee cultivation region, are said to contain a toxin that can cause a drop in blood sugar levels if consumed by a malnourished child.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Jun 24, 2019 13:17:19 IST