High-level team deployed to Bihar's Muzaffarpur to set up state-of-the-art research centre 

File photo: Union Minister Harsh Vardhan. Photograph:( PTI )

PTI New Delhi, Delhi, India Jun 17, 2019, 09.51 PM (IST)

Union minister Harsh Vardhan Monday issued directions for immediately sending another high-level team to Bihar's Muzaffarpur to set up a state-of-the-art multi-disciplinary research centre in the wake of deaths of 103 children due to suspected encephalitis.

The health minister reviewed the situation at a high-level meeting which was attended by senior officers of the Health Ministry, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and AIIMS. 

Vardhan on Sunday visited the families of the children suffering from suspected acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) in Bihar where doctors' strike has paralysed medical and health services.

Vardhan, his deputy Ashwini Kumar Choubey and Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey visited the SKMCH.

"The Union health minister has directed for another high-level multi-disciplinary team to be sent to Bihar immediately. The team will undertake the necessary groundwork for setting up a state-of-the-art multi-disciplinary research centre at Muzaffarpur," the ministry said in a statement.

"To establish the cause of the disease, there is an urgent need for an inter-disciplinary, high-quality research team. The research team shall work with the children suffering from AES/JE looking at various aspects including periodicity, cycle of disease, environmental factors and metrological data, besides other factors," Vardhan stated.

The interdisciplinary team consists of experts from ICMR, Delhi, NIMHANS, Bangalore, National Institute of Malaria Research and National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, National Institute of Epidemiology (NIE) Chennai and AIIMS, Delhi. 

The members include Dr Jhuma Sankar, Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at AIIMS, Dr V Ravi, Senior Professor of NeuroVirology at NIMHANS and Dr Abhinav Sinha, Scientist in National Institute of Malaria Research.

Vardhan also said five virological labs will be set up in different districts in the state. The districts can be decided in consultation with the state government and can be funded through the National Health Mission (NHM), he said.

In one of the decisions taken during his visit, Vardhan instructed to set up a 100-bed paediatric ICU at SKMCH. Also, in the adjoining districts, 10-bed paediatric ICUs will be set up with support from the Centre, so that such cases can be given better and exclusive treatment and there is no unnecessary load on the facilities available at SKMCH, the statement said. 

Emphasising on the need for early detection and treatment of hypoglycemia cases, Vardhan said a dedicated team of doctors should be placed in endemic PHCs with required facilities at least for three to four months before and during the onset of disease.

They may be incentivised under NHM appropriately, he said. 

As for the present, the PHCs and CHCs concerned should take prompt corrective measures for hypoglycaemia at the facility itself to utilise the golden hour, he added.

Vardhan also said the Ministry of Earth Science will be requested to upgrade its IMD observatory facility for improved monitoring of climate-related parameters such as temperature humidity, rainfall, heat waves, etc. And share it with the state government and the NCDC for better preparedness and management of AES. 

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Monday issued notices to the Union Health Ministry and the Bihar government. 

It sought a detailed report from them, including on the status of implementation of the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Japanese Encephalitis Virus/Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (NPPCJA) and other steps taken to deal with the painful situation, the NHRC said in a statement.

"The commission would also like to know about the status of the treatment being provided to the children, who are currently hospitalised, and the relief or rehabilitation provided by the state to the aggrieved families," it said.

The commission has observed that in spite of reported measures taken by government agencies, deaths of children in such a large number indicate towards a "possible flaw" in proper implementation of the vaccination and awareness programmes. 

Story highlights

The health minister reviewed the situation at a high-level meeting which was attended by senior officers of the Health Ministry, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and AIIMS.