Patna: With 128 deaths caused by Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) officially reported by the state government, doctors are scrambling to put a brake to the epidemic that has taken its toll on young children and adults alike in Bihar.
The state government has alerted all hospitals to keep their ambulances ready for any emergency and has even asked private ambulances to transport victims free of cost until the situation is well under control.
The worst-hit area continues to remain Muzaffarpur district where more than 100 children have died in the past two weeks alone. With reports of deaths related to AES coming from other districts like Samastipur, Nawada, Motihari, and Patna, the number of casualties is expected to go substantially up in the next few days.
Concerned by the growing cases of AES in the state, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday evening held a high-level meeting of senior health officials and other bureaucrats to ensure everything was being done to save lives of the patients.
Kumar directed all ambulance owners, both government and private, to transport patients to hospitals free of cost while pledged to reimburse the cost to private owners.
Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey and Disaster Management Minister Dinesh Chandra Yadav, along with other senior officials were present at the meeting.
Earlier on Sunday, Union Health Minister for State Ashwini Kumar Choubey and Health Minister Dr. Hashvardhan visited hospitals in Muzaffarpur to enquire about the patients and medical care available to them.
Not satisfied by the government's actions, both ministers were faced with protests by the family members of the victims who accused them of failing to act promptly at the outset of the disease nearly three weeks ago.
Meanwhile, a case was filed against the Central Health Minister Dr. Hashwardhan and his Bihar counterpart Mangal Pandey for 'failing to perform their duties' that led to the death of several children in Muzaffarpur.
The case was filed by social activist Tamanna Hashmi in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Surya Kant Tiwari who will hold a hearing on June 24.
Earlier, former Union Health Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Dr. C P Thakur also accused the Nitish administration of reacting slowly to the epidemic of AES.
"Had they responded swiftly when the news of AES was first reported a few weeks ago, many lives would have been saved. The government is responsible for this tragedy and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar should have personally visited hospitals in Muzaffarpur to check on the patients instead of dispatching government officials," Dr. Thakur said.