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Women dying in India after sterilization blitz

Women who underwent sterilization surgery receive treatment at a hospital in Bilaspur, India Associated Press

Women dying in India after sterilization blitz

At least a dozen women died in India and several more became ill after undergoing sterilization operations as a part of a nationwide population control program, government officials said.

Eighty-three women underwent the surgery Saturday at a hospital in Chhattisgarh, one of the poorest states in India. They were sent home that evening. By Wednesday, dozens had been taken to hospitals in Bilaspur, a city in Chhattisgarh. Twelve died, while several others remain in critical condition.

Officials believe toxic shock may have caused the deaths, possibly due to unsanitary surgical conditions or contaminated medicines, Reuters reported. “Preliminary reports show that the medicines administered were spurious and also the equipment used was rusted,” Siddharth Komal Singh Pardeshi, a senior local governing official, told Reuters.

Another woman died Monday, and several others were hospitalized following sterilization operations also in Chhattisgarh, BBC News reported.

The Chhattisgarh government flew in seven doctors from New Delhi overnight to help treat the women. It also suspended four government doctors, including the state’s chief medical officer.

“Whatever treatment is being provided to the victims is good,” Dr. Anjan Trikha of the New Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Science, told reporters Wednesday at a conference in one of the Bilaspur hospitals. But he declined to say anything else until the autopsies are released.

Dr. R.K. Gupta and two assistants performed 80 surgeries Saturday in less than 6 hours, Reuters reported. Each woman was paid up to $23 for the procedure. Chhattisgarh’s chief medical officer, Dr. S.K. Mandal, said Saturday’s conditions weren’t unusual.

Gupta worked in an abandoned private hospital and broke the 30 sterilizations-per-day limit. He blamed the medicine for the hospitalizations and deaths. Chhattisgarh’s chief minister said the victims would receive $6,600 in compensation.

The recent hospitalizations and deaths highlight India’s high population growth and low-quality maternal care.

The government’s free sterilization program mostly serves poor women who receive $10-$20 for undergoing the procedure. For a country where 180 million people live on less than $1.25 per day, the compensation represents about a week’s income.

Some activists claim the incentive payments encourage health authorities to pressure their patients into sterilization surgery rather than other means of contraception. Following this week’s deaths, Brinda Karat of the All India Democratic Women’s Association called for the resignation of Chhattisgarh’s health minister. “These women have become victims because of the target-based approach to population control,” she said. India’s government claims it stopped setting sterilization targets for women in the 1990s.

About 37 percent of India’s population has undergone sterilization operations, according to United Nations statistics. Government numbers reveal that about 4.6 million women were sterilized between 2011 and 2012. The government aimed to sterilize 165,000 women and 26,000 men in Chhattisgarh alone between 2013 and 2014, Reuters reported.

India first introduced a family planning government program in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the prime minister instituted forced sterilizations for men who already fathered two children. Since then, few men undergo vasectomies; only about 1 percent of men choose the procedure.

Poor maternal care coincides with India’s booming population and the government’s attempts to limit it. Two hundred out of every 100,000 women die from childbirth, compared to 37 for every 100,000 in China. India also has one of the highest infant mortality rates, with 63 out of every 1,000 newborns dying.

The Associated Presscontributed to this report.

Courtney Crandell Courtney is a former WORLD correspondent.

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