Patna: A recent survey has revealed that majority of the children affected by the deadly Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) this year, belonging to the poorest of the poor families in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, were living without toilets and forced to go for open defecation. This is contrary to the much hyped ongoing campaign to declare the state Open Defecation Free (ODF) on October 2.
Rajeev Kumar Singh, state coordinator of Lohia Swachh Bihar Abhiyan (LSBA) told NewsClick that a secret survey report by a state level team confirmed that most of the families of the children affected by AES were without toilets. He said, “Concerned district and block level officials have been directed to ensure construction of toilets in their houses soon.”
The state government had conducted this survey of families of children affected by AES following a socio-economic survey conducted by Jeevika Didis (livelihood sisters) of self help groups (SHGs) working under the Bihar government's rural livelihood programme in mid June that exposed the lack of toilet facility in their houses. It was the first such survey.
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Singh said concerned officials have been questioned as to what actions they took in the worst AES hit blocks of Kanti, Minapur, Motipur, Mushahari as the children of families affected by AES were without toilet facility.
According to another official of LSBA, Muzaffarpur DDC has been directed to submit a detailed report on performance and functioning of the block coordinators of LSBA. The detailed report says, “Construction of toilets in the families of children affected by AES is going on war footing to complete by September 30, following the survey report that made it clear of lack of toilet facility to them.”
Earlier in June, NewsClick had reported that AES has mostly affected the children from the poorest of the poor. Nearly 99% victims of AES were children of landless farm labourers, daily wage workers, seasonal labourers and people earning livelihood by doing odd jobs. It was revealed in a survey conducted among 289 out of over 500 AES affected families. It was found that majority of the AES-hit families are poverty stricken and from the lower strata of the society.
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As per the survey, most of the affected children were in the age of 1-11 years. Majority of them were malnourished and living in poor conditions in villages, particularly in dalit hamlets like Mushahar Toli, Paswan Toli , Chamar Toli and Muslim hamlets in villages in Muzaffarpur.
The survey pointed that out of 289 AES affected families, 96 families have no ration cards and 124 do not get any food grains through the public distribution system. Majority of those surveyed were deprived from the benefit of welfare schemes like food security.
Out of the 289 families surveyed, only 29 are beneficiaries of the Mukhyamantri Kanya Suraksha Yojana and 98 were covered under the Indira Awas Yojana. But not a single family was beneficiary of the much hyped Jal Nal Yojana (tap drinking water) of the state government. The annual income of the affected families was estimated to be between Rs 30,000 to 70,000.
More than over two decades after AES first struck Muzaffarpur as an epidemic, the disease not only persists but also continues to spread among the poorer sections. Estimates say that more than 85% of the victims belong to the socially marginalised section – comprising mostly dalits along with Extremely Backward Classes (EBC) and Muslims.
Though more than half a dozen children suffering from AES were reported in the first week of September in the government run Shri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur, the disease is not making it to the news after June when it had almost presumed epidemic proportion and claimed lives of over 150 children. In August too, over a dozen children with AES were admitted in SKMCH and four died.
In the same hospital, 477 children have been admitted with AES symptoms this year so far and nearly 320 have returned to their homes after treatment, SKMCH superintendent S K Shahi said.
Till date more than 180 children have died due to AES in the state.