Act against needless hysterectomies

Media reports drawing attention to an “unusually large number of hysterectomies” in Karnataka’s Kalaburagi district, have prompted the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) to call on the governments of Karnataka and Maharashtra to submit within a month reports on action taken. It has been reported that a large number of women from border villages in Kalaburagi district are undergoing hysterectomies and are being taken to Umarga in Maharashtra’s Osmanabad district for the procedure. The latter has consequently emerged a ‘hysterectomy hub.’ The NHRC has rightly described the hysterectomy procedures as “a violation of the human rights of the poor patients, mostly illiterates and coming from rural background.”

The Karnataka and Maharashtra governments need to clarify to the NHRC, the civil society and the women who underwent the procedures, why they did not act to prevent this gross violation of human rights, although information about this medical malpractice has been in the public domain for some time now. The magnitude of the problem is shocking. An expert committee probe initiated by the Karnataka government in 2015 found that 2,258 hysterectomy procedures were conducted in 30 months in Kalaburagi district.

A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure for removal of the uterus. It is undertaken as a last option, when other treatments have failed, as the surgery is not without serious implications for the patient. However, the lure of money has prompted unethical doctors and hospitals to remove uteruses even when this is not needed.

Many of the women in Kalaburagi, for instance, had gone to doctors with complaints of excessive menstrual bleeding, irregular cycles and abdominal pain. Doctors told them that uterus removal was necessary to save their lives. Hysterectomies are not advisable for women below the age of 50. But over 40% of the women who underwent hysterectomy in Kalaburagi were below the age of 35. The surgery did not improve their health. Instead, they developed new complications that even resulted in the death of a few.

A ‘hysterectomy epidemic’ is sweeping across the country. A large number of unnecessary hysterectomies are being performed in Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Bihar and Rajasthan, too. On the face of it, state governments have initiated action; enquiries were set up, licences of hospitals and doctors suspended and so on. However, there has been no follow-up monitoring. Hence, medical malpractices continue unabated.

There is a nexus between private hospitals, laboratories and local governm­ent officials which keeps this business booming. This  needs to be broken. Criminal charges must be slapped on unethi­cal doctors. What action is the Medical Council of India, hitherto silent, taking on its erring and unethical doctors?

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