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Doctor arrested after botched sterilization at India camp kills 13

By Annie Gowen, NEW DELHI: Authorities in India have arrested the doctor they say performed botched tubal ligations that sickened dozens and killed at least 13 women at an unsanitary “sterilization camp” in rural India over the weekend.

The arrests happened as concerns grew over government sterilization incentive programs that target poor rural women.

Police in Bilaspur, a town in central the central state of Chhattisgarh, said the doctor, R.K. Gupta, was arrested late Wednesday and charged with negligently causing death. The doctor, who performed 83 surgeries at breakneck speed, told reporters he had been pressured to meet quotas for sterilization given to him by local authorities.

“It was not my fault — the administration pressured me to meet targets,” the doctor said, according to NDTV, an Indian news channel. He also suggested tainted medicine could be to blame.

In the wake of the tragedy, a debate arose about whether the women had been coerced or coaxed into having sterilization surgeries and whether the health workers were pressuring them in order to fulfill government targets.

Although the national government has said for years it no longer sets public targets for the number of women sterilized, unofficial goals still exist, said Avina Sarna, director of the Population Council of India. A “motivator,” usually a local public health worker, is paid 200 rupees (about $3.25) per head to bring a woman or a man to a camp for sterilization.

Doctors and public health officials aiming to meet these targets set up operating stations where women arrive by the Jeep loads. They lie on makeshift operating tables while doctors quickly make an incision, insert a laparoscope and tie their fallopian tubes. The women — who have been enticed by a payment of a few rupees, a free sari, or pots and pans — often writhe on the floor in pain after the procedure. Then they are sent back to their villages with a handful of painkillers and little follow-up care.

On Saturday, district health officials set up a camp in a former charity hospital that had been shuttered since April, a dusty space with cracked floors and rusty furniture. Women who survived the ­bungled procedures on Saturday said they felt lucky to be alive.

Deepa Yadav, 22, who has two children, went to the camp with a relative Saturday for her operation and became ill a few hours later.

“Initially it was fine, but within a few hours I developed severe pain and started vomiting. I lost consciousness,” Yadav said. ­Relatives took her to a hospital. “I don’t know what went wrong. Many women from our neighborhood have done this surgery before, but such a thing never happened.”

She received 1,400 rupees, or about $22, to undergo the ­procedure.

Mihir Banerjee, vice president of People for Better Treatment, an organization fighting medical negligence in India, said such camps prey on illiterate, ­low-income women who have no recourse when procedures go wrong.

“They conduct surgeries en masse in the most horrible conditions without caring for the ­safety of the patients,” Banerjee said.

Sterilization is by far the most common method of family planning in India, government ­records show, with 37 percent of married women ages 15 to 49 sterilized, ­according to the country’s ­National Family Health Survey.This common birth-control method has a difficult political history in India. The Indian ­government first began ­family-planning initiatives in the 1950s. But forced sterilization for men to control a population boom in the 1970s — launched by Indira ­Gandhi’s government — led to a nasty backlash.

That troubled period set back government family-planning ­efforts for decades. It reemerged later as “family welfare” — with the Indian Health Ministry offering an array of birth-control options, including condoms, pills and intrauterine devices.

The efforts lowered the fertility rate to 2.4 children in 2011, from 3.6 in 1996, government statistics show. Yet more work is needed to stabilize population growth in a country of more than 1.2 billion that still adds 16 million people a year, according to the U.N. Population Fund.

Many health and women’s activists have long criticized the government’s overemphasis on sterilization, saying it is a lazy way out of the labor-intensive work of sending counselors to villages to educate people on the benefits of smaller families or regularly handing out ­birth-control pills and condoms.

Sarna said family-planning advocates had hoped that the government would ­further expand contraceptive ­options provided through its public-health system, such as injectables or implants.

“It’s time for us to be able to provide a bigger choice and ­wider choice to women,” she said. “An incident like this will be a setback to the agenda because of the bad publicity it brings. It’s unfortunate. If women need to worry about dying, they’re not going to come” for family planning.(washingtonpost)

Published Date: Thursday, November 13th, 2014 | 10:14 PM

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