The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a plea seeking a direction to the Centre to urgently constitute a team of medical experts for the treatment of the children in Bihar's Muzaffarpur, who are suffering from suspected Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), which has claimed more than 100 lives.
A vacation bench of justices Deepak Gupta and Surya Kant agreed to hear the plea on Monday after the petitioner's counsel sought an urgent listing of the matter.
The plea also sought a direction to the Centre for providing all necessary medical equipment and other supports for the effective treatment of the children suffering from the epidemic disease.
The petition, filed by advocate Manohar Pratap, claimed that he was deeply pained and saddened by the deaths of more than 126 children, mostly in the age group of one to 10 years, in the past week and the figures were rising day by day.
"The deaths of children are a direct result of negligence and inaction on the part of the respective state governments of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Union of India in handling the epidemical situation which arises every year due to outbreak of AES also called Japanese encephalitis," the plea said.
It claimed that thousands of young children were losing their lives yearly from the disease but the governments (state and Centre) had done nothing to prevent its spread.
"This year i.e in 2019, the epicentre of the said disease is Muzaffarpur in Bihar where more than 126 children have lost their lives in past one week. Media reports shows that there is acute shortage of doctors, medical facilities, intensive care units and other medical equipment in the hospitals in nearby areas and children are dying in hospitals due to lack of required facilities," the petition said.
The petitioner has sought a direction to the Centre for constituting a board of experts in the medical field and immediately sending it to the place of the outbreak i.e. Muzaffarpur, to review and assist the emergency situation.
He has asked the apex court to direct the Centre and the Bihar government for immediately arranging 500 stationary and 100 mobile intensive care units (ICU) with required medical professionals to deal with the patients from the remote areas and the emergency situation which occurred due to the AES outbreak.
The plea has sought a direction to the Bihar government to notify an extraordinary order directing all the private medical institutions in the affected area to admit and provide treatment free of cost to the patients.
The petitioner also sought directions for all possible steps to stop the disease outbreak in the earlier epicentre, Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, and to create awareness about the preventive steps and first-aid, which requires to be given to the patient in the case of AES.
He has asked for a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to members of the family of the deceased who have died due to negligence of the state machinery.
The official figure of deaths is 105, with both the SKMCH hospital and the privately owned Kejriwal hospital in Muzaffarpur reporting one casualty during the night.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had been in New Delhi since Saturday, returned to the state capital Monday evening and held an emergency review meeting on the AES situation with officials.
Instructions were also issued for equipping primary health centres with necessary facilities so that children in remote areas with symptoms of AES could be provided with medical attention closer home as, in several cases, the time involved in travelling to the district headquarters and seeking admission to hospitals led to worsening of the condition.
A team of Union health department officials visited the district over the weekend and clarified that AES was an umbrella of symptoms, unlike Japanese Encephalitis which was a viral infection.
The symptoms include high fever, convulsions and extremely low level of sugar in the blood. Among the factors said to trigger the syndrome are malnutrition.
Moreover, the litchi grown in Muzaffarpur is said to contain a toxin which can cause a drop in blood sugar levels if consumed by a malnourished child.