Sterilisation deaths shame India

The death of over a dozen women after undergoing sterilisation in a medical camp in Bilaspur district in Chhattisgarh lays bare gross criminal negligence and callousness on the part of health officials.

The death toll is likely to soar as 60 more women have been rushed to hospital, over half of them in a critical state.

That a simple laparoscopic procedure such as sterilisation culminated in death is a damning indictment of India’s public health facilities.

The doctor who conducted the procedures at the Bilaspur camp is under arrest.

Standard Operating Protocols (SOP) established by the central government for sterilisation camps forbid use of a single laparoscopic instrument for more than 10 tubectomies and permit a doctor to perform only 30 procedures a day.

The doctor at Bilaspur was on a record-making spree; he conducted 83 procedures with one instrument over a span of five hours i.e. he devoted less than four minutes to each procedure.

Deaths from other sterilisation camps in the state have been reported too indicating that such deviations from protocol are widespread.

Questions have been raised about the quality of painkillers and antibiotics administered to the women.

Free sterilisation camps are held routinely across the country as part of population control campaigns.

With their emphasis being on the numbers sterilised, women are coerced into undergoing these procedures.

Under pressure from above with an eye on creating records, health workers race through surgeries and pay little attention to sterilising equipment, keeping the operation theatre hygienic, providing  post-operative care, etc.

In West Bengal’s Malda district last year, more than a hundred women who underwent sterilisation were left to recover in open fields near the hospital.

In 2012, three men were arrested in Bihar for operating on 53 women in two hours in a field and without using anaesthetic.

Aggressive sterilisation campaigns with unrealistic targets that are implemented by unfeeling health officials are a toxic combination.

It has resulted in 1,434 women dying after sterilisation procedures between 2003 and 2012 in India.

Free medical camps are welcome as they provide India’s poorest with access to surgeries.

However, the practice of rewarding doctors and health workers for the number of surgeries performed has encouraged carelessness and undermined ethics.

It has converted sterilisation camps into virtual death traps.

A different strategy, one that involves rewarding health workers who follow medical protocols diligently and treat patients with care and commitment must be adopted.

An independent probe into the Chhattisgarh tragedy is necessary and its findings made public.

Those who violated rules deserve stringent punishment.

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