LYCHEE: Muzaffarpur Death


Author: Lepakshi Thakur

The lychee is lovely fruit and generally consumed as a table fruit. It is one of the most popular fruits of India which is commonly taken as fresh form. The fruit of lychee comes to the market in May or early June when very few other fruits are available, thus, they raise remunerative prices in the market.

Lychee is the sole member of the genus lychee in the soapberry family, Sapindaceae. It is an important subtropical fruit crop. It is believed to have originated in China, wherstatese it has been grown in the Southern Guangdong state.

In India, lychee as introduced in the 18th century through Burma, and from there, it spread to many countries. India and China account for 91% of the world lychee production but it is mainly marketed locally. 

Lychee is being extracted in climatic requirement is confined to a few state with 74% of production recorded in Bihar. In this state, lychee is the source of revenue for millions of people as it provides both on-farm and off-farm employment. Thus, lychee cultivation is the livelihood security for a large population, especially in Bihar.

Muzaffarpur Deaths: Are Lychees the cause?

50-100+ children had died till now in Muzaffarpur, Bihar; symptoms of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome have been shown in the children.

Though the exact cause has not yet been confirmed, health experts suspect the deaths to be linked to contaminants present in lychees.

Muzaffarpur is also known as the lychee bowl of India.

The symptoms of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES), a neurological sickness that involves inflammation of the brain have been shown in the children. AES is actually known as “chamki bukhar” (chamki = seizure).

The symptoms include high fever, vomiting, losing consciousness and seizures. The deaths have been reported from Kejriwal Hospital and Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital.

Why lychees may not be responsible for the death?

The lychees may not be blameable for death because the cause of death in the children is hypoglycaemia – low levels of glucose in the blood.

These children are from the shoddier sections of society. Malnourishment is extensive. The children spend the day in lychee coppices eating loads of lychees, sometimes unripe or half-ripe ones too.

The children return home in the evening and often skip dinner which leads to night-time hypoglycaemia.

According to the scientists lack food (missing feast) combined with toxins hypoglycin A and methylenecyclopropglycine (MCPG) present in lychee seeds was the cause of the sickness. The postponement in taking children to hospital and thus administering and correcting glucose levels was the cause of death.

It’s time to figure out unerringly why such fruit is being associated with the deaths of children in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar.

Actual cause behind Lychee Havoc

The real cause behind ‘Lychee Deaths’ has been revealed; it’s not the fruit but the proscribed pesticide Endosulfan.

Endosulfan is extremely neurotoxic to both insects and mammals, including humans. It can enhance the effect of estrogens and it can act as an endocrine disruptor, causing reproductive and developmental damage in both animals and humans. 

Although categorized as a yellow label (highly toxic) insecticide by the Central Insecticides Board, India is one of the topmost manufacturers and the topmost consumer of endosulfan in the world.

A similar practice of using endosulfan on cashew homesteads in Kerela’s Kasargod district has caused a generation to be born with physical abnormalities and congenital infirmities like hydrocephalus, disease of the central nervous system, epilepsy, cerebral palsy. The pesticide is sprayed using helicopters over the cashew homestead, which further enters the water cycle, thus affecting the entire population consuming the water.

Don’t blame Muzaffarpur Death on Lychees

Since 1995 this misfortune has been visiting upon Muzaffarpur’s children.

In 2014, there was a quite larger number of deaths.

Despite its specific predictability, we find lawless unpreparedness of the government.

The half a century old Shri Krishna Medical College Hospital in Muzaffarpur does not get prepared in infrastructural terms to knob the situation.

Its pediatric ICU remains dreadfully ignored.

Despite being independent India’s one of the earliest medical colleges to have been set up by private initiative (later taken over by the government), it is yet to have clinical branches of postgraduate courses.

It, therefore, suffers from a grave shortage of medical workforces, besides other infrastructure.

Who is responsible for the death? Under which law the penalty can be imposed and on whom?

Many of these lives could have been saved but for a series of delays on the part of the system response to contain the seasonal epidemic that grips kids aged 1-10 years.

The first interruption was a delay in implementing a striving project announced by the Centre in 2014 when a similar epidemic killed 379 children.

Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan   SKMCH and announced a super-specialty facility that’s still unfinished. During his visit to SKMCH on Sunday, Vardhan said it will be functional in 6 months.

As many as 125 children have deceased in Bihar with symptoms of AES, while the government has been maintaining major deaths have been caused by hypoglcemia, condition of unpleasantly low blood sugar and electrolyte imbalance. However, doctors only provide symptomatithatc treatment.

In June 2019, the cyclic return of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) or Chamki fever to one of India’s poorest and malnourished states, Bihar lead to hospitalization of 309 children in Muzaffarpur.

Family members of the affected children uphold that there was no awareness campaign that could have forewarned them.

Although over a hundred children have already been cured and discharged from Sri Krishna Medical College and hospital after a gap of four years necessitates a four-part inquiry into the exploration of the epidemic: identification, causation, confusion, and malnutrition.

According to a press release issued by Bihar’s health department last Sunday, most of the deaths have occurred due to hypoglycaemia this. But Government officials have side-stepped acknowledging that hypoglycaemia is one of the dozen diseases that fall under the umbrella term of AES. When affected by hypoglycaemia, blood sugar levels in children become overly stumpy.

AES was acknowledged for the first time in Muzaffarpur in 1995. Since then, the disease has been striking like machinery every year but its root cause has not yet been determined. However, according to a paper published in the journal Science Direct, researchers who studied 135 cases drew some conclusions on the basis of eating habits, lifestyles, economic status, caste background and so on. But the genuine cause behind the sickness is yet to be found.

Therefore it’s a stage to figure out precisely why such fruit is being linked with the deaths of hundreds of children.

On Monday, a complaint case was filed in the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Muzaffarpur against Dr. Harsh Vardhan and State Health Minister Mangal Pandey. The petitioner said that the center and the State have failed to carry out any awareness drive this year in Muzaffarpur and adjoin districts and did not set up any identify the reason behind the AES epidemic. They will hear the petition on June 24, 2019.