7 children dead due to AES in Bihar village, locals say aid too little, too late

It took Bihar’s Vaishali district administration more than a fortnight to wake up and launch preventive measures in the “ill-fated” village of Harivanshpur, where seven children have died in last two weeks due to acute encephalitis syndrome (AES), a mystery disease whose cause is still unknown despite its recurrence every year since 1995.

AES has claimed 154 children in the state so far this year.

The village, located around 65km north-east of state capital Patna, is deprived of even basic amenities like drinking water, toilets, roads, and health care. The district administration has, in the last three days, gone into a fire-fighting mode to provide the elusive succour to the residents even as many of them have started leaving the village due to the AES scare.

The district administration has put up a health camp, stationing at least four doctors working in three shifts. A nodal officer has been posted to supervise construction of the roads, and drains, and repair of hand pumps. Health workers have started visiting door-to-door, distributing ORS and food supplements for kids, while a generator set has been installed to ensure there is enough light during power cuts. A four-wheeler has also been parked in the village to ferry patients to hospital in case of an emergency.

The villagers, however, are not too excited about the facilities now being extended to them. They say these were coming a bit too late, after they have had to pay a heavy price.

“The administration had turned its back when we needed them the most,” said Suraj Sahni, who has lost his one-year-old-daughter to AES.

“Barring one, all hand pumps in the village had gone out of order several months back. The lone one still working was dispensing dirty water. In the scorching heat, when our children are falling ill, doctors advise us to ensure our children bathe at least twice a day. But we do not have enough water even to wash their foreheads, forget bathing them twice,” Suraj laments.

Ramdev Sahni, who has lost his two-year-old daughter, Simran Kumari, to the mystery disease that causes high fever followed by convulsions, said they could not afford medical aid at the medical college hospital in Muzaffarpur as they were poor.

“You need to have influence to get a bed there,” he rues, adding, the villagers lost their kids only because they lacked influence and resources. “No legislator or parliamentarian came forward to recommend admission to our wards in the hospital initially.”

Subodh Kumar Das, another resident, says that barely 10 days back, when children of the village were dying one after another, they went to the BDO and submitted a petition, requesting her to repair the hand pumps as there was no water in the village, but to no avail.

He alleged that the BDO did visit the village but did not step out of her official vehicle as she found the village too filthy. “And then when we staged protests on the nearby highway to press for our genuine demands, the administration wasted no time in lodging an FIR against us, identifying at least 19 people of the 40-odd member protesters,” he said.

The BDO, Aroma Modi, however, denies the charges. She says that on her visit to the village on June 18, around 11 days after the first deaths due to AES in the village, she was shocked to find the villagers highly agitated and ready to attack her. “They even thrashed my driver. The police had to intervene and rescue me and my driver,” she says.

Modi says conditions have improved as the villagers are getting everything that is required to protect their children from the disease.

Inhabited mostly by schedule caste and extremely backwards castes (EBC), Harivanshpur has virtually turned into a ghost village because of AES deaths.

At least half of the 12,000-odd population in the two hamlets — Sahni Tola and Manjhi Tola — had either migrated or had taken temporary shelter with their relatives in other cities after the AES outbreak.

Shiv Sahni, a migrant labourer who works in Karnataka, says he had visited his village on June 7 to attend a wedding. “The next day, two children died while several had fallen ill carrying symptoms we had never seen before. I immediately left for Begusarai with my three minor children and spouse to my in-laws house where they are still residing.” Shiv plans to return to his village only after normalcy returns.

His neighbours, Bindu Sahni and Arjun Sahni, who have 10 minor children between them, have also migrated to relatives place after AES outbreak.

First Published:
Jun 27, 2019 14:47 IST

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