Muzzafarpur is making headlines not only nationally, but internationally, with more than 100 children dying due to acute encephalitis and many more are feared to be infected.
Acute encephalitis, defined as the acute onset of fever and a change in mental status (including symptoms such as confusion, disorientation, coma or inability to talk), and/or new onset of seizures (excluding simple febrile seizures) is clearly a pressing public health emergency in India.
The outbreak is not new in the region and thousands have lost lives in the past few decades. The disease occurs in seasonal outbreaks every year, taking a heavy toll of life, especially of children below 15 years of age
Between 2008 and 2014, there were more than 44,000 cases and nearly 6,000 deaths due to encephalitis in India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In 2016, there was a rise in encephalitis, with over 125 children reported to have died in one hospital in Gorakhpur alone.
Among various speculations about the disease, the important one is about child nutrition. A proper diet during pregnancy and after giving birth, along with timely vaccination makes a child’s immune system stronger. These factors are lacking in India due to various reasons.
Data analysis reports from WHO, World Bank and UNICEF say that most African countries are better off than Muzzafarpur.
Tune in to our SoundCloud to listen to Arfa Khanum Sherwani, The Wire‘s senior editor talk about the deaths of children in Muzaffarpur, Bihar.