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The Supreme Court today (Monday, June 24) directed the Bihar government to file an affidavit within seven days giving details of facilities dealing with public health, nutrition and sanitation, for treatment of children suffering from Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in Muzaffarpur, said media reports.

With deaths of two more children reported yesterday, the disease has claimed the lives of over 130 children so far.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai directed the Bihar government to file an affidavit on the adequacy of medical facilities, nutrition and sanitation and the hygiene conditions in the state.

The court asked the government to reply on the adequacy of medicines, nutrition and hygiene, following which the state said that it has taken steps and “things were under control” and sought 10 days to file a written reply. However, the court granted it seven days to file a response.

During the hearing, one of the lawyers informed the court that similar deaths had occurred earlier in Uttar Pradesh. The court took note of it and directed the state government to file its response as well.  The matter has been posted for hearing after 10 days, reported PTI.

Most of the deaths have been reported from three blocks in Muzaffarpur — Mushahari, Minapur and Kanti, reported The Indian Express (IE). The AES outbreak has affected about 20 out of the 40 districts in the state and has afflicted more than 600 children since June 1, the IE report said.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was gheraoed when he visited Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH), almost weeks after the outbreak and angry protesters outside the hospital shouted slogans asking him to “go back”.

The State government has assured Rs 400 travel reimbursement for patients of AES. The Chief Minister had earlier announced an ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh for each child’s death due to the disease.

Also Read: Skeletal remains of 108 children found outside Muzaffarpur Hospital

Instructions were also issued for equipping primary health centres with necessary facilities so that children with AES symptoms in remote areas could be provided with medical attention closer home. In several cases, the time involved in travelling to the district headquarters and seeking admission to hospitals had led to delay in treatments.

The petitioners, Manohar Pratap and S Ajmani, had in a PIL claimed that the Bihar government’s measures are inappropriate and not enough to control the outbreak of the disease in Muzaffarpur. Therefore, the apex court should pass appropriate directions in this regard.

The issue was recently raised in the Rajya Sabha, too. CPI MP Binoy Viswam had said that officially 130 children have died but the number is as high as 180. He added that hospitals have no medicines and infrastructure to treat children suffering from encephalitis, a type of brain disease.

Malnutrition and unsafe water is responsible for the deaths, the CPI said, adding 24 lakh children die every year due to malnutrition. He sought urgent improvement in health system and medical infrastructure and payment of “adequate compensation” to families of victims.

Earlier, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sent notices to the Union Health Ministry and Bihar government over ‘deplorable’ condition of health infrastructure in the country. The human rights body had taken suo motu cognizance of the rising number of deaths of children due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar.

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