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Japanese encephalitis outbreak in Uttar Pradesh

India's most serious outbreak of encephalitis in three decades could have been prevented if authorities had stuck to an immunisation programme.

Japanese encephalitis outbreak in Uttar Pradesh

India's most serious outbreak of encephalitis in three decades, which has killed 750 people and infected thousands in the past two months, could have been prevented if authorities had stuck to an immunisation programme. While neighbouring China has drastically cut its infection rate of Japanese encephalitis through mass vaccination programmes - India, which has suffered smaller outbreaks for decades, has consistently ignored it. Last year, only 400,000 children out of 7.5 million were vaccinated against encephalitis in India's most populous state, which has taken the brunt of the disease. For many years, the public health situation in Uttar Pradesh has been completely eroded, according to the head of the Voluntary Health Association of India. India, which spends a paltry 1 percent of GDP on healthcare has been more pre-occupied with AIDS, tuberculosis and polio in recent years than encephalitis. The 750 or so victims have been mostly children from poor families. Encephalitis is caused by a virus found in pigs and is spread by mosquitoes. It affects the brain and symptoms include high fever, severe headaches and convulsions, and it can lead to paralysis, coma and death. This year, the problem was compounded after annual monsoon rains broke early allowing mosquitoes to breed in large numbers. With about 3,000 cases officially reported, the outbreak is the most serious in India in nearly three decades. The large number of cases also meant that hospitals were ill-equipped to deal with the crisis. In a government hospital in the eastern city of Gorakhpur, about 250 children are packed into paediatric wards meant for 52. Thousands of mosquito nets are being distributed across the affected parts of Uttar Pradesh. But it seems like too little, too late.
Reuters Health,
September 2005
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