HOW MANY MORE?
More than 120 children have died so far in Bihar due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome. More will. But since they are from poor families, no one seems to be in a tearing hurry to deal with this tragedy that has shaken the state. 'Poor' parents are furious and are blaming doctors. They say hospitals are not prepared to deal with a tragedy of this magnitude. While some have lost all their children, many have borrowed money from family and friends. Most are daily wage earners. They have no idea how are they going to repay. Politicians have done their bit. Customary hospital visits are done with. What next? Bottom line is: more than 120 children have died. More will.
Swati Subhedar and Arvind Shukla with reporting by Chandrakant Mishra
Chaturi Saini, 28, feels he is the most unfortunate father in this world. He lost his two children in the span of 24 hours. He was helpless and couldn't save them, he said.
He lives in Haribanshpur village in Vaishali district, 60 kms from Patna in Bihar. It's the same village where 16 children are said to have died due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES).
"I had just reached home in an ambulance which was carrying dead body of my elder son, who was 7. We were making arrangements to bury him. Just then health of my younger one, who was 1.5-year old, deteriorated. We rushed him to a hospital, but he could not survive," said Chaturi while sobbing.
Chaturi and many other parents like him are furious. They are blaming the government, negligent doctors at hospitals and health centres and ill-equipped medical staff, who they say are not prepared to deal with a tragedy of this magnitude.
More than 120 children, between the age group of 1 and 9, have died so far in Bihar. Muzaffarpur district has seen most number of deaths, whereas Vaishali district comes close second.
Running from pillar to post
Most of the parents who lost their children feel their kids could have survived if doctors and hospitals were more prepared to handle so many cases.
Chaturi first took his child to a private hospital in Lalpur. He was asked to take his ill child to Sadar hospital in Hajipur, a headquarters in Vaishali district. From here he was sent to Patna Medical Collage and Hospital (PMCH), which is 25 kms away from where he was. Chaturi didn't have enough cash so he came back home.
"He came back. But the child's health was deteriorating. So, we somehow collected some cash and took him to Muzaffarpur's Kejriwal hospital. The doctors refused to admit him and instead sent us to Medical college in Muzaffarpur, where he passed away at 3 in the morning," said Sushil Saini, Chaturi's brother.
Chaturi's wife Chanchal Devi and 1.5-year-old son was with them. When the family was coming back in an ambulance which was carrying the dead body of his elder son, his younger one fell sick and started showing symptoms of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, locally known and chamki bukhar.
The family couldn't even bury their first child, and now the second one was slipping away from them.
'Doctor didn't even examine my child'
"We didn't even bury our first-born. We rushed the younger one to a hospital in Lalpur, but everything was shut there. We then took him to Sadar Hospital. The doctor there didn't even touch my child and asked us to take him to Patna Medical College and Hospital. We didn't get any help there. At 12, my son passed away," said Chaturi.
He added: "The doctor over there asked us to take him back home. We asked for an ambulance. There were none. I had to spend Rs 2,200 from my own pocket to bring my son's dead body home. My son didn't get proper medication. He could have survived."
There are many Chaturis in Bihar
At Mazaffarpur's Medical College, you will find many Chaturis.
Nine-year-old Simani is admitted at the Medical College. She didn't get any bed. She was lying on the floor. Simani's younger sister had succumbed to AES just a week back. The ambulance that carried her body home, also carried Simani back to the hospital because her health had deteriorated while the younger one was battling for her life. Now, Simani too is slipping away.
Her mother is in a state of shock.
'My hands shiver when ... '
"Oh god, no more," said Surendra Kumar, 35, a trolley man who works at Muzaffarpur's SKMCH hospital. His primary job is to carry young children to the wards on a trolley and also carry dead bodies of those children who pass away out from the wards and hand them over to grieving parents.
"I can't take it anymore. I have seen so many dead bodies in the past few days, that it's affecting me emotionally. My hands shiver when I carry dead bodies of children," said Surendra.
There are 30 such trolley men in the hospital who have been working round the clock.
"I have two young children at home. When I carry dead bodies of these children, I can't stop thinking about them," said Ram Narayan, 40, who is also a trolley man. "I live 15 kms from here. So, I don't see my children often. Every day when I wake up, I pray to God to keep my children safe," he added.
All of them have them have been working in two shifts, yet they face staff crunch as thousands of patients have been walk in and out of the hospital on a daily basis.
"You can't even imagine what we go through. We spend most of our time with traumatised parents and children who are suffering very badly. This is affecting me. I even get nightmares," said Sunita Kumari, 32.
'I can't afford to buy medicines …'
"I am an auto rickshaw driver. I earn Rs 100-200 per day. That's my salary. My family of four is dependent on me. It's been two days that I have stepped out of the hospital. I don't know how will I buy these medicines," said Raju Shah.
His son in admitted in Sri Krishna Medical Collage and Hospital. Most of the children who are admitted in different hospitals come from poor families. Most of them can't even afford to buy medicines. Many of them have taken loans or have borrowed money from friends and families.
Naveen Kumar, who is a daily wage earner, has come from Dumri village. His daughter is admitted in the hospital. "I have no source of income now. I have no idea how will I manage," he said.
Sanjeev Sahni, who was sitting next to his ailing daughter, said: "I ride peddle rickshaw. I earn 200-300 per day. My daughter is admitted here. I have taken a loan of Rs 5,000 for her treatment. I have exhausted all of that. My wife and five children are at home. I have no idea how are they managing. What are they eating."