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Shailvee Sharda, In Gorakhpur, E stands for election, not encephalitis, Feb 28, 2017: The Times of India

Nehru Hospital has treated thousands of children down with brain fever since the 1970s. Pall of death hangs on the encephalitis ward every monsoon, killing 500 children and leaving 4,000 with developmental delays, or neurological complications if not disability. But encephalitis has found no mention in elections

Gorakhpur accounts for maximum number of encephalitis cases and deaths.

The nurse on duty at epidemic ward of Gorakhpur Medical College said only four patients were under treatment. “Before 2005, over 35% kids admitted died. That year, 1,300-plus deaths were recorded,“ she said. Residents come and go but each with a chilling experience. On why encephalitis has not been an election issue, patients, attentdants and care-givers said, “Religion is above everything else in Yogi's constituency .“ The chief of Gorakhnath Mandir influences over 64 assembly seats in the region.

Encephalitis has, however, been a political plank always. Sitting MP and chief of Gorakhnath Temple Yogi Adityanath and UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav stake claim to getting nod for an All India Institute of Medical Sciences for the region in July 2016. “Yogi Adity anath holds a meeting every month on health issues in the region,“ claimed an administration official.

So why didn't encephalitis find a mention in his party's manifesto? Encephalitis campaigner Dr R N Singh told TOI, “That's because he is the Hindu face of his party who is expected to remind people of their religion in the elections and garner votes. But those dying for decades are not his voters.“

Akhilesh Yadav is given some credit for work on encephalitis with the Samajwadi ambulance and compensation of Rs 50,000 to couples who lost a child to encephalitis and Rs 1 lakh to parents of a surviving child. But the CM has been criticised for not making health department submit the roadmap for en cephalitis control despite being pulled up by the National Human Rights Commission.

The saddest part is that even sufferers don't feel there is any connection between elections and demand for better treatment facilities for encephalitis. Dharmendra Singh from Shivpur Karmahwa village said, “Elections to bijili, sadak, paani, naali, khadanja, rozgar ke bare mein hot hai... beemari ajari to hamri apni samasya hai (elections are about road, drains, water and jobs but health is a personal matter).“

In Jogia Poll, gods replace doctors

Bheeti Rawat (Gorakhpur): When Dharma Devi's grandson Sonuwas running a fever a few days back, it was as if history was repeating itself. The old woman had lost her granddaughter to encephalitis last October and it all had began with a fever.

In a region where encephalitis is rampant, villagers trust God more than doctors. Given the mystery surrounding the disease, locals refer to it as the `nauki bimari (new disease)'. For most mothers, in such a situation a mother should lay the baby on the bed and then move a glass of water in air over the baby seven times.

“Nauki bimari Yamraj ka bulawa hai... pani se saya baha diya jaat hai (encephalitis is an invitation from Yamraj. The ritual is performed to misguide his messenger),“ said Dharma Devi.Thankfully Sonu survived as the `paani' ritual was performed timely and was immediately taken to the hospital “after warding off the shadow of the messenger“.

Even as scientists and microbiologists are researching factors causing encephalitis, locals of Jogia Poll village are not aware of the basic preventive measures that can help mitigate the risk posed by encephalitis. The preventive measures call for basic facilities like availability of safe drinking water, sanitation and nutrition, which can be easily arranged by the local MLA.

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