Health of Children

Expressing concern over the death of 500 children allegedly due to encephalitis, the National Child Rights Commission has asked for a report on the matter from the Uttar Pradesh government in 15 days. In a letter to the state chief secretary, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has stated that the issue amounted to violation of 'children's right to life, survival and development'. Besides asking the UP government for the total number of cases of encephalitis reported so far this year, the NCPCR more importantly has sought information on the existing mechanism for review of the health calamities and the action taken by the concerned departments, especially the department of water and sanitation, to prevent encephalitis in Gorakhpur.  Other details that the state government will have to provide include the emergency and corrective measures being taken up. In fact media reports suggest that the dreaded Japanese encephalitis is witnessing an emergence in the so called vulnerable areas such as UP, Delhi and even the northeastern States. After UP, the NE State of Assam has the second highest case and casualty of Japanese encephalitis.  Nagaland is also showing 44 cases and 6 deaths so far in 2011. Whether Nagaland’s health care system is prepared not just to respond to any impending crisis but also take preventive measures is going to be crucial in saving the lives of our children.
We need to learn some lessons from the present situation in UP where the deadly encephalitis, has been striking with alarming regularity especially in the eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh and 500 children have died due to it in the last two months. According to some media report more than 50,000 lives have been lost in the last three decades. And off course the problem is about the collapse of the public health system. The years of neglect by the government system and the fact that these are among the poorest section of our population, this has only led to the willful negligence and callousness of the authorities. This is plain injustice of the government machinery to ignore poor people whose voice cannot be heard and therefore the lack of concern.  And this is evident by the fact that the first outbreak was reported in 1978 and with so many deaths and huge investment made in health care; it is disturbing that the epidemic has still not been contained. In this age of information technology, fast communication and breakthrough in science and medicine, India seems to be struggling when in fact the country ought to be breaking new ground in health and education.  
The disturbing deaths of so many children should wake up the concern people—government, scientist and business so that collective effort may be put towards more research, cure and proper implementation of health services. The Union Health Ministry should also look afresh into its strategy and come out with a more specific programme to deal with the menace of Japanese encephalitis and more so given the fact that the phenomenon of climate change may only mean more of such epidemic in the years ahead. The only silver lining at present is that while issues of health fail to find mention during elections, this time around, the BJP has decided to encash public anger by taking up JE eradication as a poll promise. The package on offer ranges from a centrally- sponsored comprehensive JE eradication programme for UP on the pattern of Pulse Polio Immunisation among others, if the party is voted to power. Maybe politics for a good cause can actually be a harbinger of the much needed succor for the countless of children who will have to confront this killer virus every year. Our politicians and the government machinery must all wake up from their present state of stupor.