Yes you read right fifty thousand children dead in just one town in India, 376 this year alone. The culprit: encephalitis; the reason: the total collapse of the public health system in one of the poorest regions of our country. Once again we need to hang our heads in shame. Are we not the country that boasts of seven star medical facilities that attract a new breed of tourists from the world over. But how can we gloat over such facilities when we cannot look after our very own. Why was there never a national programme for eradication of encephalitis. Are 50 000 deaths not enough for the Government to take notice or is it that these deaths only affect the very poor. The affected State wrote to the Centre for vaccines. These never reached on time. It is once again the case of two Indias isn't it? A local doctor who is fighting for the eradication of this disease and who fed up decided to write to the powers that be in his own blood received a wishy washy answer: creation of groups and bodies, setting up of an awareness campaign. The big question is will all this be implemented or will it be yet another way of lining pockets. It is sad but true one has lost faith in Government and administrations.
It took so many deaths for the media to wake up and 'break' the story. True the death of a poor child does not make good copy, you need numbers to attract TRPs. Have we become so insensitive and callous. The death of a single child is unacceptable. Yet in India children die everyday of malnutrition, of preventable diseases. In India 1.95 million children die every year, 5000 of them in our capital city. Even this figure does not make good media fodder. The unnatural death of a single child cannot be accepted and yet we close our eyes and look away. According to experts simple life-saving measures such as oral rehydration solutions, basic vaccinations, breastfeeding and using mosquito nets could bring down the dismal number by more than two thirds. These are cheap and eminently doable options and yet we remain cold, mute and unperturbed.
The medical facilities for the poor are abysmal across our country. In the capital the rich have access to the swankiest facilities possible provided they are willing to pay the hefty tag. Some hospitals will not admit you unless you dish out a substantial deposit. The poor have access to poorly run local dispensaries or the government hospital often located miles away. The former are free but of poor quality and the later also require no money but a huge investment in time and patience . The alternative is a visit to the local quack, often an erstwhile doctor's assistant who doles out medicine of doubtful origin. The fees are affordable but the treatment contentious. It often works in normal cases as the illness is often self limiting. But in serious ones such treatment can be lethal. The other option open to a poor patient are the private doctors and hospitals. These come at a cost and often lead to borrowing at impossible interest rates and getting caught in the clutches of a dubious money lender. In the past decade we too have witnessed many preventable deaths of children. Yet nothing changes.
Will the new statistic be a wake up call or simply remain a statistic to be forgotten when some new sizzling news replaces it. Memory are short and come to think about it a few hundred poor children dying is soon forgotten. Have we simply forgotten how to look with our hearts.