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Wednesday, 13 June, 2001, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Deadly malaria strain in India
Map of Assam state
By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

Officials in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam say at least 70 people have died of malaria in the past month.

The strain is a particularly serious one which affects the brain.

Mosquito biting
The strain is said to affect the brain
Health officials in Assam say more than 1,000 people in 15 of the state's 23 districts have been affected.

But, according to unofficial sources, the figure is much higher - with some estimates putting the toll at about 200.

One of the state's leading newspapers, The Assam Tribune, reports that up to 150 people have died so far.

The paper's editor - Prasanta Baruah - told the BBC that these figures had been compiled through the paper's extensive network of correspondents in Assam.

Disease spreading

Mr Baruah said the authorities were deliberately playing down the number of deaths - an allegation the Assam health department strongly denies.

But health officials do admit that malaria is continuing to spread in a number of districts.

They also say that the facilities available to treat such a large number of patients are clearly inadequate - especially in rural and hilly areas.

The situation is made even more difficult because the malaria - which is said to affect the brain - demands prompt medical intervention.

Assam is considered to be particularly malaria-prone along with other states in north-east India and the adjoining regions of Burma and Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Many people die due to the lack of facilities to treat the disease and the unavailability of doctors.

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