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22 June, 2019 00:00 00 AM
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Poverty, not lychees, the real culprit in Indian ‘brain fever’ outbreak

AFP, HICHARA, India
Poverty, not lychees, the real culprit in Indian ‘brain fever’ outbreak
In this picture taken on Thursday an Indian mother holds her child who is receiving medical care for Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) at Kejriwal hospital in Muzaffarpur in the Indian state of Bihar. AFP photo

From lychees to heat, the factors behind almost 120 children dying in eastern India this month are many, but there are two underlying and preventable root causes: poverty and bad governance.

In Bihar state’s Hichara, for instance, where the outbreak still rages, there are no toilets, no running water and no cooking gas for the group of thatched huts that make up the village.

As semi-naked children with runny noses play, there is power but no fans—let alone air conditioning—to escape temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).

“We don’t even have clean water to drink. We fetch it from a tap in nearby village. How can we afford healthy food?” mother-of-three Shakeela Khatoon, 36, told AFP.

“The government is not bothered about us. They come to us only for votes. After that we are forgotten,” she said.

The deaths in Bihar have been blamed on Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), an inflammation of the brain affecting undernourished children under 10, which sets in frighteningly fast.

The epicentre is Muzaffarpur district, which also happens to be a hub for lychees that ripen in the summer—just when the dreaded disease spikes every year. The lush orchards in the area are heaving with bundles of the juicy tropical fruit with prickly pink skin, tempting hungry local children.

“It is the unripe lychee which is the problem,” said Arun Shah, a paediatrician who has researched the phenomenon extensively. “It contains a toxin and if eaten by a malnourished child it leads to a sudden drop in glucose which affects the brain,” Shah told AFP.

But even if lychees are to blame—and the jury is still out on that—the deaths could probably been avoided if people had access to better health care, experts say.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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