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Bihar food poisoning - what might have caused the deaths

Bihar mid day meal poisoningThe death toll of the children affected in the Bihar food poisoning case has risen to 21 meaning that almost one out of every three child who was given the midday meal has died. Even the principal's two children and the cook have fallen ill due to food poisoning.

According to doctors from Patna Medical College and Hospital, the children suffered severe symptoms of poisoning within a few hours after the meal. According to Dr Shambhunath Sinha, district civil surgeon, the children were showing classic signs of food poisoning and yellow phosphorus poisoning like fever, vomiting, abdominal pain and frothing at the mouth.

It was further revealed that the school that had started in the year 2010, did not have a proper building to function, and was being run out of a Panchayat Bhavan. Due to the lack of space, the food grains were being stored in the principal's house. Incidentally, the official site of the Mid Day Meal Scheme states that each school is supposed to have a 'kitchen-cum-store' space of 20 square meters per 100 children to store and cook these grains. What is baffling about this whole incident is the fact that the government has provided these grains without providing safe areas to store it making the move redundant, in our opinion.

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What makes this whole situation even murkier is the fact that Mr Amarjit Sinha, Principal Secretary, Health department, told newspapers that the children were responding well to treatment via atropine (which is a drug that is used to treat phosphorus and carbamate poisoning which are found in rat poison and pesticides). Was the poisoning accidental or deliberate?

Combined with several other compounds, yellow phosphorus is a systemic poison that causes severe damage to the gastrointestinal, hepatic, cardiovascular, and renal systems. Considered highly poisonous, phosphorus poisoning victims show symptoms like vomiting with or without blood, abdominal pain, frothing at the mouth due to asphyxia and a characteristic smoke smell when the person vomits.

It is important that the treatment for poisoning by yellow phosphorus is immediate. Although there is no direct treatment available for the this type of poisoning, the only method is to get rid of as much of the toxin as possible and then provide symptomatic treatment.

Bihar's midday meal scheme has been in the news earlier due to widespread corruption. Government guidelines on food quality are blatantly ignored and dead lizards, frogs, insects and a rat have been found in the food.

While Bihar grapples with the loss of these innocent lives, the chief minister has made a statement the their deaths were due to poisoning. Who will be held responsible, is yet to be seen. But the question arises, where and with whom does the actual fault lie? Is the government simply handing out 'schemes' as an eye wash for tax payers? What should the common man do in cases where elected officials blatantly look the other way in times of crisis?

What do you think? Leave a comment below, and let us know.

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