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'Rusted equipment' led to India surgery deaths

November 12, 2014

Rusty tools and contaminated medicine are thought to have caused the deaths of at least 12 women who underwent sterilization operations in central India. Dozens more are in a critical condition.

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Image: fotolia/cirquedesprit

At least twelve women had died by Wednesday morning as a result of a government-run sterilization program in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

A case has been registered with the police by the local government, accusing the doctor who performed the surgeries, R.K. Gupta, of causing death by negligence, according to news agency Reuters. Gupta has reportedly denied wrongdoing.

Tubal ligation, also known as a tubectomy, is a popular surgery in India, with the government offering financial incentives for women who undergo the procedure in a long-running effort to reduce the nation's expanding population and widespread poverty.

Government guidelines stipulate that a doctor may only perform 30 such operations a day, but Gupta is reported to have performed the surgery on at least 80 women, all under the age of 32, at an abandoned private hospital in just a few hours on Saturday.

Gupta is also accused of having used rusty surgical tools. "Preliminary reports show that the medicines administered were spurious and also the equipment used was rusted," a local government official told Reuters.

Investigations underway

A team of doctors rushed to central India on Wednesday after dozens of the women were brought to private hospitals in the hours following Saturday's surgeries after experiencing dangerously steep drops in pulse and severe vomiting.

Doctors at the hospital in Bilaspur could not immediately determine what exactly ailed the more than 20 women in critical condition, but said that it seemed like toxic shock or blood poisoning. Many of the patients were not responding to treatment, the doctors said.

The incident highlights the dangers women face with regard to reproductive health in India, where sterilization is the most popular form of birth control. India has one of the highest rates in the world of female sterilization, with 37 percent of women undergoing tubectomies or similar operations, compared to about 29 percent in China.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is on a state visit to Myanmar, expressed his concern over the tragedy. During his campaign he promised to reform India's health system, which suffers from extreme variations in quality of care and access to services.

Preliminary autopsies are expected later on Wednesday, according to the Chhattisgarh state health minister.

es/se (AP, Reuters)