Japanese encephalitis again
With Assam yet again facing a serious outbreak of Japanese encephalitis, alarm bells have begun to ring as far as New Delhi even though Dispur continues to be characteristically somnolent. With 66 lives already lost and 365 positive JE cases this year, the Union Health Ministry has decided to rush a team of medical experts to the State to assist and advise Health authorities here to deal with the outbreak. Upper Assam districts have been the worst-hit, with Tinsukia, Golaghat, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar bearing the brunt of the viral infection that triggers deadly brain fevers. Activists of All Assam Students Union and other students and youth organisations have taken to the streets to protest the Dr zrul Islam-led Health department’s iction in taking timely preventive measures and providing adequate treatment to JE patients, particularly in rural areas. The department has failed to complete the adult JE vaccition drive in all the districts, while a majority of the victims this year too are adults. Medical researchers have pointed out that in other countries, JE mostly affects infants and children — but Assam has been an anomaly because adults in the State are contracting the disease. Despite the first JE outbreak occurring way back in 1978 in Lakhimpur, the State still continues to reel under the JE onslaught every year, particularly from July to October. Fogging operations to combat the principal JE vector culex mosquitoes, as well as necessary sanitation drives, continue to be desultory at best. Most hospitals still lack special care units and stocks of effective medicines. The public awareness drive remains mostly limited to newspapers and limited public hoardings. All this reinforces the public perception of an effete Health department merely going through the motions in combating JE year after year, while the disease regularly takes a toll in hundreds of precious lives.