The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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States blamed for brain fever deaths

New Delhi/Hyderabad, July 14: The National Institute of Communicable Diseases has blamed state governments for the recent outbreak of encephalitis. It has suggested that essential services, like cleaning sewers and clearing garbage, be handed over to private companies to keep the environment clean.

In the last few months, encephalitis has claimed 107 lives in Andhra Pradesh and 43 in Maharashtra. Nine districts in Andhra are affected, some of these adjoining Nagpur, where the disease is rampant. Karimnagar district has recorded the maximum 42 deaths.

Andhra health minister K. Shivprasad Rao has said the epidemic is under control and a new encephalitis vaccine will be introduced shortly. Chief minister . Chandrababu Naidu has allocated Rs 25 lakh for each district taking up hygiene operations.

In Bengal’s Murshidabad district, about 45 children in the age group between five and nine died last month because of an outbreak of viral fever.

Encephalitis, which leads to inflammation of the brain, is transmitted through mosquitoes. “Services essential for keeping the infection out, like cleaning sewers and removing garbage, should be privatised since state governments and municipal authorities have proved incapable of fulfilling their duties,” said B.M. Das, an official at the institute.

Even in Kerala, the only state which has paid due attention to education and health, authorities are slack in maintaining hygiene. Laptospirosis, an infection caused by unhygienic conditions, has killed 32 people in the state in the last six months.

An institute report says: “The municipalities are not working. There was no garbage disposal, no sanitary conditions. Cattle urine flowed with water.”

Teams from the institute visited all affected states and returned with similar reports indicting the governments. “The picture in all the states looks the same — total politicisation of municipal bodies. Governments are ignoring their basic function — that of ensuring a clean environment,” Das said.

Refuting charges that it is neglecting hygiene, the Andhra government says it has implemented a World Bank-assisted Rs 608-crore programme over the last six years to set up latrines and improve hygiene in villages. “We are building another 32.5 lakh latrines at a cost of Rs 893.75 crore,” an official spokesman said.

The Andhra government has already declared a hygiene week to take up cleaning operations on a war footing.

Health is a state subject and the Centre does not have the power to intervene. Its role, therefore, is restricted to sending teams from the communicable diseases’ institute to affected spots every time there is an outbreak.

Institute officials say the infection can be contained if the state governments properly implement the malaria-control programme aimed at preventing mosquitoes from breeding. “The anti-malaria programme takes care of several other diseases like encephalitis, kala azar, filaria and dengue, which are carried by mosquitoes,” Das said.

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