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Five deaths takes toll to 118

Siliguri, July 30: Five persons died in the last 24 hours of suspected Japanese Encephalitis in the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital taking the death toll from January onwards to 118.

Sources in the hospital said none of the patients’ tests had confirmed the presence of the Japanese Encephalitis virus, so the reason for their deaths was reported as Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) — an umbrella term for any kind of undetermined viral fever that causes inflammation of the brain and symptoms similar to Japanese Encephalitis.

Congress and BJP leaders today visited north Bengal’s main referral hospital. Leaders of both the parties criticised the state government for laxness. On July 26, when Darjeeling BJP MP S.S. Ahluwalia had visited the hospital, he had said that over 200 people had died in north Bengal.

The announcement of 200-plus death toll, much higher than what health officials had reported till then, led to confusion and embarrassment in the government and triggered the sacking of three health officials.

Today, however, when BJP state chief Rahul Sinha visited the hospital, he did not speak on the death toll. He criticised the Mamata Banerjee-led government for not taking help from the Centre to check the outbreak in which deaths have been reported almost daily since the beginning of this month.

Manas Bhunia in NBMCH
in Siliguri on Wednesday

“I was in Delhi yesterday and spoke to Union health minister Harsh Vardhan on the outbreak,” Sinha said. “He expressed deep concern and said the state has not sought any help from his ministry so far. Instead, he has proactively sent some teams of experts and has also written to the chief minister,” the state BJP chief said.

“We want the state government to think over the situation and seek help from the Centre. Also, our party demands a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the families of the deceased and Rs 2 lakh for those who are under treatment.”

He added that though “authorities here are claiming the situation is under control, we have specific information that there is shortage of medicines and even drinking water…. There should be adequate arrangements so that patients need not pay to buy medicines from outside.”

A Congress team led by Manas Bhunia also visited NBMCH today. This was the first visit by a Congress team.

Bhunia said “the state has delayed in tackling the outbreak. Doctors and technicians should be brought (to Siliguri) immediately from Calcutta and Delhi to form teams so that the death spree can be stopped.”

Trinamul minister Gautam Deb said the Opposition leaders “are doing politics here and thus, I prefer not to comment on their remarks”.

B.R. Sathpathy, the director of health services, today said four, not five, persons died in NBMCH. “In the past 24 hours, four persons have died.”