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Interview With Manoj Jha

Interview With Manoj Jha

AES deaths due to government apathy towards child nutrition and health: Manoj Jha MP (Rajyasabha)

The outbreak of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district has shown that health system is in shambles. More than 150 children have died since the beginning of June. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said in the Rajya Sabha that deaths due to encephalitis in Bihar are unfortunate and a matter of shame for the government.

Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to Rajya Sabha MP from Rashtriya Janata Dal Manoj Jha to know his party's views on AES deaths in Muzaffarpur, role of state government, health infrastructure, central government's Ayushman Bharat scheme and PM's remarks on the AES deaths. Jha said that political apathy, misplaced priorities and insensitive policies of the state government are responsible for the AES deaths of children. Bihar MP demanded that the state government should act fast and ensure that no more kids are added in the list of dead children.

IC: Bihar has been struggling with an outbreak of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome since the beginning of June. More than 150 children have died so far. Such outbreaks have happened annually during summer months in the same district since 1995. It is now an annual crisis in Bihar. Your comments.

Manoj Jha: The entire corridor from Gorakhpur to Muzzaffarpur which has reported so many deaths due to encephalitis almost on annual basis, has failed to raise alarm bells in the government because nothing concrete has been in the field of preventive medical care.   In 2014, Dr Harshvardhan, who was Health Minister in Modi government, had promised to provide additional beds, more Intensive Care Units and paramedical staff and doctors etc. following the outbreak of encephalitis, did not keep those promises. The outbreak of AES deaths is clearly a poor reflection on the Nitish Kumar government with respect to public health infrastructure. A recent special audit report clearly stated that 3/4 kids are from BPL families whose income is Rs 150 per day. It is a clear indication that public health infrastructure hasn't got any attention from the state government.

IC: The government hospitals in the district are ill-equipped to handle the crisis. Reports emanating from Bihar suggested that due to the Lok Sabha elections, the Bihar government diverted human resources and funds for child nutrition and even skilled awareness drives about AES this year. Awareness generation on public health were diverted for 2019 general elections in Bihar. What would you say on it?

I am not aware of it. I may point out here that the death figures are from the government hospitals only. So the actual figure of deaths may be more alarming. However, we expect that the state government would do everything to save the kids.

IC: Six years ago, US researchers found that a toxin present in litchi fruit was responsible for such deaths. But Muzaffarpur based ICAR-National Research Centre on Litchi has denied the connection of litchi with AES deaths in Bihar. The question is what is the reason behind so many deaths of children?

It is ridiculous to say that litchi was the cause of death of so many children. China has much more production and consumption of litchi than India but no death due to litchi has been reported from China .The government should have conducted a research to find out the exact cause of deaths.

IC: The data analysis of reports of World Health Organisation (WHO), World Bank and Unicef, and its comparison with statistics for Muzaffarpur district shows that when it comes to nutrition of child and mother, most African countries perform better than Muzaffarpur.

It is a complete case of callousness and apathy of the government towards child nutrition and health.

IC: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said deaths due to encephalitis in Bihar are unfortunate and a matter of shame for the government.

We would want Prime Minister to ensure that such deaths do not occur. Prime Minister Modi should tell Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey who is from the BJP, to be little more sensitive towards his job.

IC: The increasing AES deaths put a question mark on the existing health facilties in Bihar. The central government's Ayushman Bharat scheme seems to have not delivered in this case.

By and large, the existing public health facilities for people are inadequate in Bihar. The Ayushman Bharat scheme is not about the health of ordinary citizens but health of insurance companies.

IC: Health Minister Harsh Vardhan recently stated   that the mortality rate due to AES cases in Bihar has come down significantly due to strategic interventions made by the central government. Your comments.

He should recall what he had promised in 2014 to people of Bihar after deaths of children due to Encephalitis were reported.

IC: Bihar deputy CM has faced criticism for setting his priorities for Miss India over dying children.

The BJP-JDU politics is bereft of any engagement with ground reality. The ruling party's formula is not to do anything on core issues like education, health and employment. They are insensitive towards the masses.

IC: Former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi has demanded the resignation of health minister and also added that Nitish should ask health minster to resign. If he fails to comply then Nitish himself should resign. Do you support his views?

I don't wish to comment on it.

(Published on 01th July 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 27)