The Bihar government’s failure to prepare for the annual outbreak of the Acute Encephalitis Syndrome during the nationwide lockdown has led to the death of eight children in Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur. AES, known as chamki bukhar locally, is a lethal syndrome that primarily affects young children and toddlers. It is rampant in northern Bihar, particularly in the districts of East Champaran, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Vaishali and Muzaffarpur. It is an epidemic that has been noted to return nearly every April and May, and has accumulated a death toll of more than 471 in the past decade.
This year, the Bihar government appeared to have done little to prepare for the outbreak and did not take into consideration how the nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus would worsen the AES crisis. Despite the annual frequency of AES, the government failed to address the social determinants of AES like malnutrition. The state was also unable to efficiently track cases of the syndrome or create medical infrastructure that could respond to the crisis.
On the intervening night of 24 and 25 April, Sukki Kumari, a four-year-old from Muzaffarpur’s Musahari block complained to her father, Sukhlal Sahni, of fever and nausea. She soon began having violent convulsions and was taken to Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur and was admitted in the paediatric intensive care unit—or PICU. The medical superintendent informed the family that had her glucose levels had dipped very low. She did not survive the night.