x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Shameful inaction

Encephalitis is preventable. But to do so, political will is necessary. That is where India is lagging behind.

Japanese encephalitis, a mosquito-borne virus, sweeps across India during every monsoon season, claiming hundreds of lives. This year's outbreak threatens to take the biggest toll in nearly a decade: as many as 1,000 will die, according to official estimates.

And yet this disease is not only predictable, it is also preventable. A vaccine has also long been available in India. But tragically, and unforgivably, political will is in short supply.

Over the past several years, the government has repeatedly vowed to eradicate encephalitis. Last year some 40 billion rupees (Dh2.75bn) was pledged by the government to prevent and control encephalitis over the next five years. But little progress has been made in getting the vaccine to the people at risk.

China, meanwhile, has greatly reduced Japanese encephalitis, as a result of widespread immunisation of children. Each year, 20 million young Chinese are vaccinated.

India's achievement in polio eradication proves that public health measures can be effective there, even in the most challenging environments. That in turn is an indictment of those who, for whatever reason, have in this case failed to save lives that should have been spared.