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Politics and brain fever

You don’t expect our yogis to be worldly-wise, leading as they do an ascetic, apolitical life of austerity and silence. Otherwise, how could UP chief minister Yogi Adithyanath object to a political leader visiting a place of tragedy and offer comfort to the suffering? He even threatened to ban the visit. Did Rahul Gandhi not have the right to visit Gorakhpur, even if one is justified in accusing him of trying to take political mileage out of such visitations? Or is it the BJP’s style of facing the truth by denying it, as the Madhya Pradesh government did when the same Rahul wanted to visit the rain-hit in that state two months ago?  The Congress’ hurry was understandable: it was desperate to score at least one electoral victory in 2017. Adithyanath represents the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituency and since he is leaving the seat, a by-election is due soon. How can Rahul leave this chance to mark his presence in the constituency represented for the past ten years by the Yogi?

The political sideshow was the last display that the shocked people of U.P needed. The death of 30 children primarily suffering from encephalitis (brain fever, to the common man) at a critical care hospital in Gorakhpur shocked the nation, immediately touching off claims and counterclaims about the shortage of oxygen supplies. The chief minister has moved to bring relief. Whether or not the deaths were due to the absence of oxygen supplies, (perfectly possible in our heartless bureaucratic setup), the equally important reality is “the failure of the country’s public health system, which has allowed “encephalitis” to become an annual outbreak in the region,” says Pritha Chatterjee. A former journalist with a newspaper and currently a research fellow at a Harvard School of Public Health, she writes: “clearly, epidemiological investigation, a key discipline in public health and central to understanding the root of ‘mystery’ diseases, has been chaotic in both UP and Bihar for almost a decade. The system has been reactive — busy treating symptoms rather than getting decisive, coordinated answers for and targeting the roots of the disease.” In Gorakhpur, most children got sick because they did not get good quality water. She quotes scientists in the US who studied an outbreak in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district as “identifying a toxicological root in the litchis grown in the district.” Public health delivery is a low priority in this country.

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