Heat wave, encephalitis kill hundreds in Indian state of Bihar

Govt struggles to deal with extreme temperatures and outbreak of deadly brain inflammation disease
Heat wave, encephalitis kill hundreds in Indian state of Bihar

An Indian child suffering from acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) is treated at the government-run Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur district in the eastern state of Bihar on June 17. (AFP photo)

ucanews.com reporter, Bhopal
June 18, 2019
A heat wave and an encephalitis outbreak have together claimed more than 200 lives in India’s Bihar state.

At least 103 children died after an outbreak of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) in the eastern state’s Muzaffarpur district alone. Another 100 people have reportedly died in the heat wave that has swept the state over the past three days, media reported quoting government sources June 17.

“It is a very tough situation. We don’t know how to deal with it,” said Archbishop William D’Souza of Patna, based in the state capital.

Some media reports put the death toll at 250 and said the worst-affected areas are Aurangabad, Gaya and Nawada districts.

Father Jose Kariakatt, a social worker and missioner in the state, told ucanews.com that the encephalitis death toll is “much more than the official figure.”

The priest said a group of non-governmental organizations, including some church groups, have sent out fact-finding teams to assess the situation in the areas affected by the brain inflammation disease.

He blamed the AES outbreak on a lack of medical resources. “An inadequate number of doctors, nurses and other paramedical staff coupled with a shortage of medicine is leading to the death of children,” said Father Kariakatt.

Men shield themselves from the scorching sun in Patna. (Photo from IANS)


The heat wave has seen temperatures reach the mid-40s leading to the state government shutting education institutions until June 23.

Private establishments, barring medical stores, have been asked to avoid opening during the hottest hours of the day. Officials have also cautioned people against venturing out of their homes between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Archbishop D’Souza said the poor have been mostly affected by the extreme temperatures, particularly those who do not have proper shelter or limited adequate access to water and food.

“It’s an alarming situation and only proper awareness can help people safeguard their lives,” the archbishop said.

Father Anto Jose, a Jesuit social worker, said the government is ill-prepared to face such challenges. “Most of the victims of the heat wave are poor manual laborers who went out for work,” he said.

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Due to the depletion of the water table in much of the state, he said, most people do not even have enough drinking water.

He said bore-wells in several of the Catholic mission stations across the state have dried up. “We are neither able to meet our water requirements nor those of our neighbors,” Father Jose said.

Bihar has some 104 million people, but Christians number only 125,000, with an estimated 80 percent of them spread across six dioceses, including Patna.

The Catholic mission began in the region during the early 18th century with the Capuchins. There are several congregations in the state including the Jesuits who focus their efforts 0n education and health care, particularly in impoverished villages.

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