The Centre will take the help of bodies like Unicef, WHO and Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, to set up dedicated research centres in Muzaffarpur and Bhagalpur to unravel the mysterious disease there.
The decision assumes significance as experts have so far failed to pinpoint why the disease haunts north Bihar districts every year and claims children’s lives.
No less than Union health minister Harsh Vardhan accepted the ambiguity on the diagnosis front during an interaction with the media on Sunday after his two-day visit to the epicentre of the suspected acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) menace in Muzaffarpur, around 80km north of Patna.
“Reports available show the ailing children having different symptoms. Some had low blood sugar, others had sodium-potassium imbalance. In most cases, children did not get any vaccination. With so many varying symptoms, it is tough to identify a particular factor for the disease,” the Union minister, himself a qualified doctor, said. All this has made his ministry resolve to start research in a more serious, organised and well-planned manner than before, he said.
The minister said he would leave for the United States on Monday and hold a meeting with experts at the Centre of Disease Control in Atlanta.
He also said the Shri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur would be upgraded to a super-speciality hospital where suspected AES patients can be treated. He would also request Medical Council of India to increase number of MBBS seats at SKMCH from 150 to 250.
“We have decided to set up a 100-bed paediatric intensive care unit at SKMCH. During my visit there, I found sufficient number of beds but we want to equip the hospital with more beds so that we don’t face problems during emergencies,” Vardhan said. A 10-bed paediatric intensive care unit would be opened up at hospitals in 10 districts close to the affected area while virology testing would come up in five districts. “We have also set a target to eradicate diseases like measles and kala-azar the way we have eradicated polio.”
The Centre would also request the state government to provide 50 to 100 acres more to AIIMS Patna to develop environmental and occupational centre among other facilities. Vardhan said the Centre wants to make AIIMS Patna and other new AIIMS among the best healthcare institutions in the world.