The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia face to face with killer
Sonia Gandhi at the bedside of a child suspected to be suffering from Japanese Encephalitis in Rae Bareli on Monday. (PTI)

Rae Bareli, Sept. 5: As he looked at his daughter’s almost bloodless face, Ram Kumar felt suddenly very afraid.

Was this the end for his little Savita'

The next moment he was running down the corridor to the doctors’ chamber.

The 42-year-old was back at his daughter’s bedside when Sonia Gandhi walked into the children’s ward of Rama Benimadhav hospital with son Rahul and a team of central doctors. The moment he saw her, Kumar went down on his knees before the Congress chief. “Please do something,” he cried.

An embarrassed Sonia walked up to the bed where the seven-year-old lay unconscious and then turned to the doctors treating her.

She is on antibiotics and improving, they told her, but it was a particularly virulent form of Japanese Encephalitis, the disease that has so far claimed over 400 lives in Uttar Pradesh since it broke out early last month.

“Doctors are taking care, please have patience,” Sonia told Kumar.

About 40 people ' among them 28 children ' have died in Rae Bareli alone. Across the state, nearly a thousand people have been hospitalised with the disease, which is caused by a virus spread by mosquitoes. The worst affected areas are Gorakhpur and other districts in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Local officials say rearing of pigs by poor people is adding to the problem as the animals play host to the virus.

Sonia later visited two other rooms in the ward where 39 children are under treatment. What she found out was distressing: the children in the constituency that had sent her to Parliament were being treated without proper blood tests and medicine. There were no mosquito nets either.

Rajvir Singh, whose daughter is also under treatment, told Sonia how villagers in Rae Bareli are trying to cope with the disease. “In my village, Shivgarh, I buried four children in the last week. After I helped bury the fourth child and went back home, I found my daughter had high fever. I got a cycle-rickshaw to bring her here. I am probably lucky,” he said.

In Rae Bareli, 433 people have been admitted to various hospitals since August 1. The condition of 34 is said to be critical.

“I have moved around the hospitals, saw the condition of patients and spoke to the doctors'. The condition of some patients is improving,” the Congress chief told reporters after a tour of the hospitals in her constituency.

A day before she reached, a team of six central doctors was sent to Rae Bareli. They immediately installed testing kits at the district hospital here.

Sonia reached Rae Bareli in a green Tata Safari driven by Rahul, who represents neighbouring Amethi, which has not reported any encephalitis cases yet.

Although Sonia did not make any adverse comment, her visit, with doctors in tow, spoke of the state government’s handling of the situation since the outbreak of the disease.

Last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had reprimanded the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led government for not doing enough to check the disease. “When I see the way encephalitis continues its killing spree, I feel there is lot for the state government to do in improving the health services,” Singh had said at a meeting here.

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