Global Health

Over 50 Women Hospitalized and 12 Dead in India After Botched Mass Sterilization at Government-Run Camp

At least 12 women are dead and more than 50 women have been hospitalized in India following botched sterilization procedures in government-run health camps.

via S Vivek
via S Vivek

According to reports, more than 83 women between the ages of 26 and 40 were operated on in only six hours by one doctor and an assistant. At least 20 women who were hospitalized as a result of these procedures are in critical condition. Witnesses say the procedures were carried out “hurriedly” and a doctor is accused of using rusty tools in an unclean operating room. The women were sent home, but soon began reporting fever and pain. A few days later, many of them were taken to a hospital and several died. The exact cause is unknown, though first investigations suggest the deaths were from blood poisoning or extreme loss of blood.

So-called “sterilization camps” reportedly exist in several states in India, with authorities in some areas offering couples incentives like cash payments for undergoing the procedure. In this case, each woman was offered 600 rupees, which is the equivalent of less than $10 US dollars, to undergo the procedure. The botched laparoscopic tubectomy operations were performed in Chhattisgarh, one of the poorest states in India, with at least a 49 percent poverty rate.

After the deaths, state surgeons met to debate whether or not to continue the state sterilization schedule, which would see 180,000 women sterilized by March of 2015. Activists say these schedules and quotas are a danger to women as they pressure doctors to lead women in the direction of sterilization over other effective methods of contraception.

“These women have become victims because of the target-based approach to population control,” All India Democratic Women’s Association member Brinda Karat told the Associated Press. The Indian government estimates 4.6 million women were sterilized in the country from 2011 to 2012.

Although four health officials, including one man who received an award last year for having performed 50,000 sterilization procedures, have been suspended, the Indian government denies claims of negligence.

This is not the first time botched sterilization procedures in India led to hospitalizations and death. In early 2012, three men were arrested for performing the procedure without anesthesia on 53 women in just two hours. Sterilization camps are put in place to perform mass procedures. A national sterilization campaign was abandoned in the 1970’s after people complained that thousands of people were forced into getting sterilized. While these procedures are now said to be voluntary, poverty and health officials have pushed women into sterilization – sometimes without proper consent forms.

Updated 11/12/2014

Media Resources: Reuters 11/12/2014; BBC News 11/7/2014; Associated Press 11/7/2014; The New York Times 11/7/2014