‘Encephalitis, Children’s Deaths and A Failed Health System’: 6th Kuber Dutt Memorial Lecture

The 6th Kuber Dutt Memorial lecture was held at Rajendra Bhavan in Delhi on 7 October 2017 on the topic ‘Encephalitis, Children’s Deaths and a Failed Health System’. Delivering the lecture, Jan Sanskriti Manch General Secretary Com. Manoj Kumar Singh said that the recent death of 53 children in 4 days at BRD Medical College due to lack of oxygen supply has exposed the failure and insensitivity of the entire health system in the country. There have been 9907 children’s deaths in BRD Hospital alone since 1978, not counting deaths in district hospitals, CHC, PHC and private hospitals. The encephalitis deaths are only the tip of the iceberg. This disease has spread to 121 districts in 17 States, with UP being one of the worst affected. Officers, politicians and the media have tried, and are still trying, to propagate the lie that this is an “unknown disease” whereas child specialist Dr KP Kushwaha had long ago identified it as Japanese encephalitis.

Com. Manoj further said that the government has initiated neither vaccination nor any preventive measures to counter this disease which results in a high rate of death or physical/mental disability, particularly in children below the age of 15. To control and prevent this disease it is the responsibility of the health department to ensure vaccination, cleanliness, safe drinking water, hand-pumps, and personal toilets. The treatment, rehabilitation and education of children who fall prey to this disease are the responsibility of the Social Justice ministry. But neither department has discharged its responsibilities in the smallest measure. Com. Manoj pointed out that as most victims of JE/AES are from the poorer sections, it does not make the news and nobody discusses it; on the contrary incidences of swine flu , dengue etc create national news.

Com. Manoj Kumar Singh said that only 1.01 of the GDP is allocated for health, which is dismally low even in comparison to much smaller and poorer countries. This must be increased considerably if the state of hospitals, doctors, medicines and medical facilities is to improve. In reply to audience questions he said that there is complete silence on this disease from private levels, as there is no funding for research on this dangerous disease. CM Yogi, when he was in the Opposition, took out a silent march against encephalitis deaths but when the deaths occurred in his own regime he washed his hands of responsibility and actually sought to shift the blame on to Dr Kafeel who had done his best to help the affected children.

Before the lecture, Jan Sanskriti Manch Delhi Convener Com. Ramnaresh Ram welcomed the audience. Kuber Dutt’s new anthology of poems ‘Bacha Hua Namak Lekar’ was released by well-known artist Haripal Tyagi. Poet-scientist Laltu, writer Sudhir Suman, Shyam Sushil and others threw light on the writings and relevance of Kuber Dutt. The programme was presided over by litterateur Vachaspati from Banaras and started with a minute’s silence in honour of film-maker Kundan Shah and children who died due to lack of proper treatment.