At least 15 women have died and scores of others are seriously ill after having a tubectomy at two states run sterilization "camps" in India.
Ongoing investigations point to contaminated drugs given to the women as a possible cause of death. But a dirty operating room and operations performed in a matter of minutes have raised serious questions about India’s approach to population control and public health care system.
15-year old Archana is desperately trying to put her 3 month-old brother to sleep. He is crying out for his mother. She died last week after going to a government run sterilization camp.
As the eldest child Archana now needs to take care of her three siblings. Her father is disabled.
“I miss my mother a lot, my brothers and sisters are waiting for her, they think she has gone somewhere, they refuse to eat but I somehow manage to make them have something. I’m particularly worried about the youngest one. He does not take the bottle and keeps crying all day and night.”
Archana’s mother didn’t want to get pregnant again. So when she heard the government had set up a FREE sterilization camp in the area see went. Soon after the surgery she complained of severe abdominal pain and vomiting. She was rushed to a hospital where she died.
15 other women who had the same operation died. They were all in their earlier 30’s and leave behind breastfeeding babies. The deaths sparked massive protests in several cities. Under pressure, the local government says they are investigating several officials.
Amar Agarwal is Health Minister in Chattisgarh government.
“We now have the report that confirms that the drugs were not up to standard and also had poisonous elements. We have given the report to the police they will thoroughly investigate it and the culprits would be severely punished.”
The doctors performing the surgeries have also been arrested. The doctors say they were under pressure to achieve a target set by the local government. They carried out 80 operations in just six hours in Bilaspur Town.
Gynecologist in New Delhi Punit Bedi says that was highly irresponsible.
“The time needed just to wash hands between two procedures is 3-5 minutes. Then you have to change and sterilize the equipment and that takes a minimum of two hours so obviously they used contaminated equipment for multiple surgeries which is completely wrong and unacceptable medically, legally and ethically.”
Nearly 5 million people are sterilized in India every year; more than 70 percent of them are women.
Deepa Sinha works on health issues with the New Delhi-based Centre for Equity Studies.
“Among the various methods of contraception female sterilization is the one with most side effects and involves many risks and yet this remains our main focus. We are just obsessed with this. It has become another way of systemic oppression of women, the government campaign plays on the existing gender inequality in the society and stresses female sterilization as if there is no other choice.”
She says in many cases the operation is done without the full consent of the women. And they are pushed to do it through incentives.
“So the couples will be told that if you sterilize after two children you will get this much money and such and such other benefits. But if you don’t, then you would be deprived of such and such development scheme running in your area and you won’t be able to stand for a local body election etc and this is internationally known to be a flawed approach.”
The Government rejects this and says the sterilization program is completely voluntary. But the deaths in Chattisgarh have lead to calls for the government to abandon the whole program.
Pradeep Pandey’s daughter is one of the women who died after being sterilized. He encouraged his daughter to have the operation.
“I thought she had a complete family and now it was time to focus on their education and upbringing. I thought she would have a happy life with a small family but I didn’t know I was actually pushing her to death.”
The local government has announced that he and each of the grieving families will received just 700 US dollars in compensation.
Pradeep Pandy says want he cares more about is seeing those responsible are brought to justice.
“The government must immediately punish the doctors involved and the manufacturers of the drugs. They should loss their jobs and be punished so that tragedies like this never ever happen again.”
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