More than 60 children have died in the past fortnight in Bihar from Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). Such outbreaks of the disease are said to be commonplace, particularly around Muzaffarpur in the summer. The State blames the death of children under 15 from acute brain disease on "hypoglycaemia resulting from high heat, humidity and no rains". Awareness can help a lot towards controlling hypoglycaemia. Doctors are known to have researched the subject and pinpointed viruses, bacteria and environmental toxins that cause such outbreaks in various parts of the country from time to time. While medical opinion may vary on the causes, the disease itself and the outcomes, it stands to reason that certain areas have been negligent about tackling the core cause of the outbreaks and trying to stem the deaths that occur every year, sometimes even from consumption of litchi and certain types of beans.
Not all encephalopathic deaths are caused by the summer heat but the point is whether or not the nation is doing enough to create awareness in vulnerable sections of the population in rural areas where either AES or encephalitic diseases are routinely claiming young lives. Bihar, ruled by a coalition of JD(U) and BJP, has been known to be particularly vulnerable and yet the state has not been seen to be proactive in educating the population. While care for the sick is undertaken on a war footing in hospitals in the affected areas, there are no discernible steps to define what are the putative etiological agents that can cause such outbreaks and threaten the lives of children and what precautions are to be taken. Parents have not been sensitised sufficiently with regard to the threat summer heat poses or the foods to be avoided for fear of toxins. The larger issue, of course, is that of nutritious food for children that make them better able to withstand such challenges.