Indian sterilisation surgeon held over deaths

A woman in hospital in Bilaspur after sterilisation surgery. Picture: Reuters

A woman in hospital in Bilaspur after sterilisation surgery. Picture: Reuters

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AN INDIAN doctor who conducted sterilisation procedures in which 13 women died has insisted he didn’t do anything wrong.

After being arrested, RK Gupta said he used to perform up to ten times more surgeries a day than allowed.

The doctor, who had been in hiding since Saturday’s operations, was arrested at a relative’s home near the central Indian city of Bilaspur late on Wednesday, Dr SK Mandal, the chief medical officer of Chhattisgarh state, said.

Gupta denied responsibility for the deaths and blamed medication given to the women after surgery.

A total of 83 women had surgery as part of a free government-run mass sterilisation campaign and were sent home that evening. But dozens became ill and were rushed in ambulances to hospitals in ­Bilaspur.

Dr Mandal said at least 13 women had died and dozens more were hospitalised. At least 16 were left fighting for their lives.

Gupta performed more than 80 sterilisation operations in six hours – a clear breach of government protocol, which prohibits surgeons from performing more than 30 sterilisations a day, Dr Mandal said. He added that investigators were trying to determine whether the women, all of them poor villagers, had been given tainted medicines.

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Gupta said: “I am not guilty. I have been performing surgeries for a long time and there has never been any problem.

“I have a history of completing up to 200-300 surgeries in one day. There are no written guidelines, but what we have been told verbally is that we shouldn’t perform more than 30 operations in a day.”

He said all the patients had begun vomiting and complaining of dizziness and weakness after they were given medication following the operations.

Experts said the deaths were the result of a complete lack of medical oversight.

In the 1970s, prime minister Indira Gandhi imposed a policy of forcibly sterilising men who had already fathered two children. Opponents at the time said the programme targeted unmarried and poor men, with doctors given bonuses for operating on low-income patients.

India’s government stopped setting targets for sterilising women in the 1990s. But doctors and human rights workers have alleged for years that targets exist – which would lead to coercion in villages where most people have very limited access to both education and health care.

Dr Mandal said Gupta was likely to have been under pressure to reach his district’s target of about 15,000 sterilisations. In January, Gupta was feted by the state government for performing 50,000 laparoscopic tubectomies.

Women in most Indian states are promised 1,400 rupees (£14) when they choose to have laparoscopic, or “keyhole,” sterilisation surgeries, such as those conducted in Bilaspur.

The relatives of some of the women who died said they had been bullied into getting the surgery. Most of the women had very young babies, some of whom they were still ­breastfeeding.

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