New Delhi: Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi on Wednesday refused to take questions from the media on the rising death toll due to encephalitis in Muzaffarpur and said, “I already told you this press conference is about banking committees…”

Reasoning his refusal to answer questions on the encephalitis epidemic, Sushil Modi said, “This is a banking committee press conference, we will answer your questions on this (encephalitis) in another press conference.”

On Tuesday, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had issued directions for helping people cope with the deadly disease plaguing children. “The Chief Minister gave a few directions. He said the main reason of deaths is that patients reach hospitals late. It’s been reiterated that patients won’t have to bear any expense in coming to hospitals. Their fare will be reimbursed, they’ll be given Rs 400 at flat rate,” Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar had said.

He had added that more doctors would be brought in from outside to help doctors at SKMCH. He had also stressed on the need for creating awareness about the ailment. “We are creating awareness that children shouldn’t sleep on an empty stomach and be immediately brought to the hospital if they fall sick. We’ve given directions that all ASHA workers, ANMs, Anganwadi workers distribute ORS in all households tell them its importance,” he had said.

Children have been dying in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and neighbouring districts due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) for over a fortnight, but doctors and health officials are still in dark about the exact nature of the disease and precise cause of deaths.

The state and central governments are also clueless on the matter. As per official figures, 113 children have died due to AES in Muzaffarpur and neighbouring districts, so far.

Bihar Health Department Principal Secretary Sanjay Kumar said here that of the total 113 deaths, 91 had died state-run Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH), 16 in the private Kejriwal hospital both in Muzaffarpur, two in the Nalanda Medical College and Hospital in Patna, and 4 in other districts.

This year, 501 AES cases have been reported in the state till date.

Doctors and health officials have different views on the factors behind AES epidemic and the cause of the deaths. This confusion has further complicated the process to combat or control the seasonal outbreak of AES, which has been recurring every year.

With IANS inputs