A child plays at a local playground in eastern UP. Tired after play time, she returns home. Soon, she turns lethargic. She is developing a fever, her parents find. But things turn worse, as delirium or disorientation sets in.
Instead of rushing to the hospital, the child is taken to a local healer, who tries to ward off evil from the girl’s life. But what the girl needs is treatment by a doctor at a hospital.
This is the story of many children in eastern Uttar Pradesh who get infected by the bite of a certain type of mosquito, resulting in them contracting Japanese encephalitis.
It was less than two years ago, in 2017, when scores of infants had died within a span of hours at the Baba Raghav Das Medical Hospital in Gorakhpur, throwing the state into turmoil. Calls had grown louder at the time to sack the then newly elected chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath.
A teary-eyed Adityanath had then vowed to fight the disease.
Now, in 2019, things are looking up.
In 2018, deaths on account of encephalitis had fallen dramatically – by 66 per cent – in the 14 most-affected districts of Eastern UP – that is a drop from 553 deaths in 2017 to 187 in 2018.
Reporting of encephalitis cases in the region has also gone down, from about 3,800 in 2017 to a touch over 2,000 cases last year.
And, till 11 February this year, no life has been lost out of the 35 reported cases in the region.
The Dastak campaign, wherein officials went door to door spreading awareness about the disease, has turned out to be a big success, leading to the vaccination of every child against encephalitis in 38 affected districts of UP.
Malnourishment in children was addressed by ensuring that pregnant and lactating women and infants got the right nutrition.
A cleanliness campaign involving local players was put into action, too.
As the numbers tell us, the effort has been paying off.
For this, the Yogi Adityanath government should gladly accept a pat on its back, but also take it as an incentive to keep going till the disease hurts no one.