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India Launches Encephalitis Vaccination

China agreed to make about 13 million doses for India at a discounted price _ about $3.8 million, said Dr. S. Sarkar, an adviser on immunization for WHO and the Indian government. That's about 29 cents per child.

Sarkar ran the country's immunization program for 18 years and saw the virus return each year after the monsoon season from June through September left ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. He was amazed by the huge crowds of children that showed up for the free shots, which will later be given to other affected areas and eventually added into routine vaccinations.

"Without any fear in their eyes, they were coming out of the centers laughing. They didn't cry when they were standing and getting their shots," Sarkar said. "I think we have achieved something."

Jacobson said the campaign should produce a dramatic decrease in cases this year, but some doctors fear the campaign _ covering 11 districts in the states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam and Karnataka _ will still not be enough. Most children did not fall ill last year until late in the rainy season.

Health officials in Assam last week reported 25 Japanese encephalitis deaths and dozens of other suspected cases.

In Uttar Pradesh state, four children have already tested positive for the virus and another 48 have been hospitalized with symptoms, said Dr. A.K. Rathi, pediatrics chief at BRD Medical College hospital in Gorakhpur, where the bulk of last year's cases died.

About 200,000 unprotected children remain scattered across hundreds of villages, said Dr. K.P. Kushwaha, a senior pediatrician at the hospital.

"The (encephalitis) patients have started trickling in," he said. "It is a matter of time when they will start pouring."


Margie Mason covers medical issues for the AP throughout Asia. Associated Press writer Biswajeet Banerjee contributed to this report from Lucknow, India.

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