Ten women have died in India and dozens more are hospitalized after a government program that pays women to be sterilized went awry. Some of the women are in critical condition. In India, sterilization is one of the most common methods of contraception. The government pays cash and gives other incentives as part of its policy of limiting population growth. Human rights groups, however, say the system is subject to grave abuses.
According to November 11 media reports, more than 60 women were affected by botched surgeries over the November 8-9 weekend in Chhattisgarh, a state in central India. Ten have now died, according to Sonmani Borah. The official told UCAN news service by telephone, "With two more deaths reported today (Tuesday), the death toll in the family planning operation-related case has gone up to 10." Around 80 women underwent the sterilization procedure at the local government-run camp that was held in the Bilaspur district.
The affected women suffered from vomiting and a dramatic drop in blood pressure, according to Borah. Local physicians told the AFP news service that the women's symptoms may suggest the post-operation drugs they were given may have been the cause. Mass sterilization camps are frequently organized by the various Indian states as part of a national program in which women are given 1,400 rupees (US$23) as an incentive. Some local governments offer other incentives such as cars and electrical appliances to couples volunteering for sterilization.
Human rights advocates say that although sterilization surgery is voluntary, the target-driven nature of the program has led to being coerced into being sterilized in inadequate medical facilities. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh has suspended four top health officials since the deaths. A police complaint was lodged against the surgeon who performed the operations. Singh also announced compensation of 400,000 rupees (US$6,500) for each of the families of the deceased.
Protests ensued in Bilaspur, where many of the women have been hospitalized, in which residents demanded consequences for the culprits. Surgeons had used a laparoscopic procedure for sterilization, in which the fallopian tubes are blocked, usually under general anaesthesia.
In a widely cited report, The Indian Express newspaper said the surgeries were carried out by a surgeon and his assistant over five hours. R.K. Bhange, the chief medical officer of Bilaspur, told The Indian Express that there was no neglience committed even while an investigation has now started.
In a related incident in 2013, medical authorities in eastern India were condemned after a video emerged that showed dozens of women who had been dumped unconscious in a field following a similar mass sterilization. The victims had been sterilized in a hospital that was not equipped to handle such as huge number of patients. The Indian government issued guidelines for the procedures in 2011 for the mass sterilization camps. However, a report issued by Human Rights Watch the following year urged the government to set up an independent grievance system to allow citizens to report without reprisals any form of coercion and poor quality services at sterilization centers. The organization also called on the government to provide training for male government workers to provide men with information and counseling about contraception.
However, problems persist in the sterilization centers. Contraception programs in India have traditionally focused on women, since sterilization of men is still not accepted socially. Government figures from 2008 show that around one third of the 54 percent of the population that reported using any form of contraception opted for female sterilization.
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