Nearly 50 heat deaths in Bihar in 3 days, say doctors. Not so, says government, questions assessment

State may issue show cause notices to health officials who confirmed heat deaths without postmortem report

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Monday 19 June 2023
Photo for representation. Source: iStock

Scorching sun, strong hot winds and heatwave conditions killed nearly 50 people, including children, in Bihar during the last 72 hours. 

Hundreds of people have fallen sick in the eastern state due to very high temperatures and more than 500 are undergoing treatment for heat-related illnesses at home or government and private hospitals. 

Extreme to severe heatwave conditions prevailed in Bihar the last three weeks, said Ashish Kumar, an official of India Meteorological Department, Patna. “Several districts recorded temperatures above 43 degrees Celsius in the last eight days (June 11-18).” 

But during the last two days (June 17 and 18), the mercury breached the 44°C mark, he added.  

Doctors and hospital staff have confirmed that dozens of deaths were due to heat stroke, dehydration, high fever, vomitting, dysentry and other symptoms resulting from unbearable heatwaves and hot winds.

However, the top officials of the state health and disaster management department are yet to ascribe a single death to heat.

Unless postmortem reports confirm heat stroke or heat-related illness as the cause of deaths, it is not possible to link them with heat, according to them. 

“In most cases, people who died due to heat stroke or very high temperatures, their family members and relatives refused to go for postmortem and conducted last rites immediately. This is a big hurdle to confirm that these deaths occurred due to heat,” a health department official said.

In most such cases, family members had told doctors that the patient fell sick after heat stroke, dehydration or high fever following exposure to high temperature and heatwave conditions.

Doctors and residents suspect that the deaths of around six police officers and a school teacher were due to heat stroke. But their postmortem reports are awaited.

The disaster management department has asked all districts to send reports of deaths due to heatstroke, according to an official. “We are in the process of collecting data of deaths due to heat stroke.”

But on the ground, heat has been identified as a reason for deaths across districts in Bihar. On June 18, for instance, 20 deaths were reported due to heat, including two in Nalanda, five in Gaya, six in Bhojpur and four each in Aurangabad and Jamui districts.

On June 17, 35 deaths were reported due to heat stroke and heat-related illness at two government-run hospitals in Patna, including 16 in Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH) and 19 in Nalanda Medical College & Hospital (NMCH).

A senior doctor of NMCH, Dr Ajay Kumar Sinha, said 16 critical patients suffering from heat-related illnesses were brought to the hospital but they died soon even before being admitted and three died during treatment.

Similarly, Dr PN Jha of PMCH said 116 patients suffering from heat stroke and heat-related illness died within six hours on Saturday.

On June 17, more than 200 patients were admitted for heat-related illness in NMCH and PMCH.

There has been an increase in the number of patients affected by heat who visited the hospital in the last few days and serious cases were admitted, a doctor at the emergency ward of PMCH said.

In Gaya and Aurangabad, two districts badly affected by heatwaves, more than a 100 people were undergoing treatment for heat stroke and other heat-related illness in government hospitals on June 19, 2023.

On June 16, too, regional dailies reported five deaths due to heat stroke in the state.

The health department may issue show cause notices to doctors or hospital officials who confirmed deaths due to heat stroke in recent days without a post mortem report.

Temperature in the state is increasing every year, said Abdus Sattar, senior scientist at the Centre for Advanced Studies on Climate Change, Rajendra Prasad Central University, Pusa, Samastipur. “This time, a long spell of heatwave and strong hot winds were a result of lack of pre-monsoon rains and delay in monsoon activity.”

This is the first time a heatwave has lasted 20 days, he added. “This suggests that climate change is very much here.”

Patna recorded its highest temperature (44.7°C) on June 17. This is the third time the mercury crossed 44°C in June in the capital city.

Sheikhpura was the hottest district in Bihar, with the maximum temperature of 45.1°C, followed by Auranagabad’s 44.8°C.

Officials informed that Patna recorded the maximum day temperature of 45.8°C in June 2019, which was the highest in the last 53 years.  

According to the state weather department, Bihar received 83 per cent less-than-normal rains till June 15. 

Besides, the state recieved 88 per cent less-than-normal pre-monsoon rains during April-May this summer. This is a particularly bad sign for the state.

IMD officials predicted thunderstorms with light to moderate showers at different places in the state on June 19, bringing a big relief to the residents.

This year, monsoon officially arrived a day ahead of its scheduled time but halted in its path due to Cyclone Biparjoy. In the next two to three days, monsoon is set to become active in the state, according to weather experts.

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