Muzaffarpur and Gorakhpur show the mirror to the New India – and its not shining
The death toll of children in Bihar due to encephalopathy has reached close to 150. Those who are familiar with the interior of this country can easily see that Muzaffarpur was a tragedy waiting to happen. The rural population is trapped in the web of caste, poverty, malnutrition and poor health administration. Early reports blamed the toxin found in unripe litchi fruit that causes extremely low levels of glucose. But within a few days, it became clear that it’s the malnourished children eating the unripe lychees that got affected by the syndrome.
Children dying due to poverty and malnutrition is not accidental, its criminal. It is part of a well thought out strategy where the poor who cannot afford food, health and education are to be dispensed with because it doesn’t fit the illusion of shining India that we are living in.
Many children died in the long commute from the villages to the hospital. Many local reporters and youth volunteers have highlighted the closed primary health units. Children were brought to a tertiary care unit far from the village when the early symptoms could have easily been averted by glucose and ORS provided by the primary health units. Why were the public health centres closed and ASHA workers missing? Who is responsible for the dismal state of existing health centres? Most of the mainstream news focussed on only two hospitals inability to handle the number of cases. There were complaints about the sanitation, inadequate number of beds, patients and families lying on the floor, shortage of doctors etc. While that is the case, there are many other factors as well that have led to this otherwise preventable tragedy. In the wake of the calamity, there are some questions that we should ask the state and central government and mostly ourselves that how long are we going to let this state of affairs continue.
The questions that most media will probably never ask-
1. In Bihar, almost 44% of children are malnourished. Malnourishment reduces the capacity to fight disease. Studies by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the Indian collaborators have found that the AES symptoms are exacerbated in children who are weak and malnourished. All the children diagnosed for AES in Bihar belong to poor, lower caste families and are malnourished. There has been no case of AES found in urban areas. When half of the children are malnourished what is the state doing to improve their status?
2. The state has been seeing AES cases in the area since 1995. It took 17 years for the health departments to make a standard operating procedure (SOP) on how to control the disease. This year, state and central ministers started making the rounds when the death toll reached above 100. The indifferent attitude of the administration, health authorities, ministers were caught on camera but we still fail to ask what causes this nonchalance where they can get away with comments like – “Children die in these months”.
3. The MoS health department Ashwini Choubey and chief minister Nitish Kumar admitted that due to elections, awareness programmes were not proper this time. Awareness programmes are a big part of the SOP. The resources and manpower that should have been used for the people were diverted for elections. Yes, elections are important but neglecting crucial health schemes and programmes shows where the government priorities lie.
Where is the money, honey?
Despite being one of the most populous countries, India has the most private healthcare in the world. India spends less than 1% of its national income on healthcare – one of the lowest in the world.
Let’s look at some of the government expenditure in the last couple of years.
On the first international yoga day that was celebrated on 21st June 2015, central Government spent close to 32 crores. In the last 5 years, Centre has spent sums amounting to close to Rs. 140 crores in organising Yoga days. Most of it was spent on the publicity of the event and as grants to government institutions and NGOs to celebrate yoga day.
2019 Kumbh Mela was the costliest ever Kumbh Mela with the budget of over 4000 crores. Even a temporary hi-tech hospital was set up with 100 beds for the visiting pilgrims. Last year, the Uttar Pradesh government spent over Rs 14 Lakhs for hiring the chopper from which senior police officers showered rose petals on Kanwar pilgrims.
This begets the question of why the state could not spare a couple of crores to make one temporary hospital for the ailing children.
After 100 deaths, Central health Minister, Harsh Vardhan made same promises as he made 5 years ago, of more beds, more diagnostic labs and more ICU´s. When will these promises be delivered?
Why is Media not asking these questions to the government?
Media in their unflinching subservience to the ruling party has been scolding, chastising, shoving mikes down the throats of doctors, nurses and affected parents. In their bid to highlight “breaking news” and being “sabse tez” they were shamelessly selling the misery of others as tamasha to get more TRP ́s. All this while asking what the opposition parties have done. They have forgotten that opposition is not in power in Bihar for more than 10 years and in the centre for the last 5 years.
Let us also not forget the role of media in Gorakhpur, where more than 1000 children suffering from Japanese Encephalitis died of oxygen shortage in 2017. In a bid to save the ruling government of any accountability, Dr Kafeel Khan, the paediatrician was made the scapegoat and was suspended. Despite all criticism, the governments remain unscathed.
The same Dr Kafeel Khan has been working relentlessly in Muzaffarpur putting health camps in villages and doing awareness programmes on preventing AES. Somehow the mainstream media failed to report this.
Some news channels accused RJD, Lalu Yadav ́s party of playing “politics “ by bringing in the caste angle by mentioning that most children dying were SC and OBC. Why are most deaths Dalits and OBCs is a pertinent question that is being swept under the carpet. This is a fact that the media is trying to gloss over because it will show the link between poverty, caste, malnutrition and government apathy.
Malnutrition and Modi Antoinette
Last year, India was at number 103 out of 119 countries in Global hunger index. According to statistics, 4 children out of 5 are malnourished. Four days ago, PM Modi celebrated International Yoga Day in Ranchi, 400 Km away from Muzaffarpur where he said: “We have to take Yoga to the villages”. He did not tell how can malnourished children benefit from Yoga.
In 2012, Mr Modi, then Gujarat CM had attributed his state’s high rates of malnutrition to vegetarianism and figure-conscious Gujarati girls. In 2019, it seems Bihar ́s children have also become figure conscious.
While the whole country is saddened by the death of over 150 children, the silence of PM Modi over the issue is deafening. Meanwhile, he has tweeted about the thumb injury of cricketer Shikar Dhawan. He also tweeted and expressed grief about the death of 14 people in a pandal collapse in Rajasthan. They were listening to Ram Katha. Priorities..right?
When the governments prioritise private healthcare over public infrastructure, we as a country are a failure. India is a third world country. In a third world country, the so-called “dole” are not a political necessity, it’s a humanitarian need. Until the states fail to provide basic services of food, health and education that is constitutionally mandated, Gorakhpurs and Muzafarpurs will not stop!