More than 100 children lost their lives in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar because of the Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) outbreak. AES, more commonly referred to as ‘Brain fever’, has been triggered by the consumption of litchis on an empty stomach at night.
While the luscious fruit has triggered the disease in the state, it isn’t the cause of it. The causal factor of the disease is malnutrition. Malnourished children have depleted glycogen store in the liver. So if there is no glycogen reserve, the glycogen breaks into glucose. When the shortage further increases, even fats start burning. This process produces byproducts like ketones and amino acids which are neurotoxic. So, if a child sleeps without food, this whole physiological process gets completed by wee hours of the day and then the kid gets a fever with convulsions and at times s/he loses consciousness.
When malnourished kids are exposed to toxins like MCPG present in litchi, which is grown in these months, the chemical triggers hypoglycaemia. It’s so much that sugar levels fall up to 30 milligrams per decilitre and sometimes even nil. This leads to complications. The fact that only malnourished children are at risk is also proven by the reasoning that all the vulnerable children belong to the poorest of the poor class. No child eating litchi, who belongs to a well-to-do family and gets adequate food, suffers from AES.
Most of these deaths are preventable. Within four hours of the onset of symptoms like convulsions, high fever if a child is administered dextrose (glucose), s/he can be saved. Only glucose administration is required. However, most of the patients come from far off villages where the peripheral medical facilities, much against the government’s claims, don’t even have facilities to administer it intravenously.
Health infrastructure and malnourishment causing these many deaths of small children are heart-breaking. It is time the government starts addressing these issues. While building infrastructure at remote places may take some time, malnutrition needs to be addressed immediately. It is shameful that even today, people lose their lives because of lack of food.
In order to scale up the process at a faster pace, businesses have to step in with expertise, management, and infrastructure investment. GDP growth is not only the measure of a good economy. Health, nutrition, respect, and opportunity for all is the mark of a developed economy.
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The CSR Journal Team