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Hospital chief puts toll at 203

Siliguri, July 25: Over 200 people in north Bengal have died of Japanese encephalitis and acute encephalitis syndrome (AES), the new superintendent of North Bengal Medical College Hospital said today, the figure much higher than that furnished by the government.

Junior health minister Chandrima Bhattacharya today said that 108 people had died of Japanese encephalitis and AES in north Bengal. Yesterday, the chief minister had put the toll at 74.

Darjeeling MP S.S. Ahluwalia of the BJP told a news conference at NBMCH superintendent Sabyasachi Das’s chamber that over 200 people had died of Japanese encephalitis and AES in the region so far.

Das, who was present, said after Ahluwalia left that 203 people had died of these conditions in north Bengal since January.

He said 37 people had been diagnosed with Japanese encephalitis or AES at the NBMCH and some of them were critical.

Das, who took charge today, said the outbreak had claimed 120 lives between January 1 and June 30, and another 83 since July 1.

Ahluwalia accused the state government of failing to plan beforehand to tackle Japanese encephalitis.

“Every year, people die of Japanese encephalitis in north Bengal. This year the mortality is the highest. It is unfortunate that there was suppression of certain facts on the part of the state government — by both ministers and officials,” the MP said.

“I am here to help the state government and the NBMCH authorities. During my visit to the NBMCH, I learnt that two ministers (Bhattacharya and north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb) are also here,” Ahluwalia said.

“I immediately sent the message to them through a common friend that we should sit together and discuss so that the Centre and the state can jointly address the outbreak. The ministers, however, did not respond to my message.”

Minister Bhattacharya announced some “preventive and curative measures” planned by the government.

“We will soon distribute medicated mosquito nets in the affected areas. The civic bodies, district administrations and other agencies have been asked to work on vector control and cleanliness and take steps such as capturing pigs,” she said.

“We will write to the Centre seeking a regular supply of Japanese encephalitis test kits from Pune and approval of our plan to recruit 20 entomologists, maybe on contractual basis, for the districts. Fifteen fever clinics have been set up (in north Bengal hospitals).”

Bhattacharya said the state would request the Centre to help set up labs in Malda and Cooch Behar to detect Japanese encephalitis. “There is now only one such lab (in the NBMCH) in north Bengal. The overall situation is under control,” she added.