Chhattisgarh sterilisation tragedy: All you need to know

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In an incident that shocked the country, eight women died and 52 others were hospitalised after a botched sterilisation procedure at a government-organised camp held at a private hospital in Pendari village on the outskirts of Bilaspur town on Saturday.

What is the case?

  • A total of 83 women had the surgeries as part of a free government-run mass sterilization campaign. They were sent home that evening. 
  • But, dozens became ill and were rushed in ambulances to private hospitals.
  • Around 60 women were admitted to different hospitals after they complained of complications.
  • According to reports, the victims showed signs of toxic shock, possibly because of dirty surgical equipment or contaminated medicines.

Sterilization: World's largest surgical contraception programme

  • Sterilization is considered as a permanent method of contraception. 
  • It is meant for men and women who do not intend to have children in the future.
  • In certain cases, sterilization can be reversed, but the success of this procedure is not guaranteed.
  • India carries out more female sterilizations than any other country.
  • According to UN report, nearly 65 per cent of Indian women aged between 15 and 49 rely on sterilization.
  • Some 4.6 million Indian women were sterilized during 2011-2012, according to government figures.

How is the sterilization operation done?

  • It is a relatively simple outpatient surgery which can be done at a centre, doctor's office, camp or hospital.
  • Generally, it is performed under local or general anesthesia, depending on the method used to perform sterilization. 
  • During the minor surgery, the doctor block the fallopian tubes (tubes that lead from women's ovaries into the uterus or womb) so that sperm cannot meet with and fertilize an egg.
  • The fallopian tubes are cut, sealed, or tied. A very tiny cut is are made in the abdomen or belly. 
  • Patient can go home same day.

Why is RK Gupta (who performed surgery) guilty?

  • The doctor, R K Gupta, is accused of operating on more than 80 women in six hours with the help of two assistants in an abandoned private hospital.
  • This is a clear breach of government guidelines, which has put a limit of such operations to 30 a day.
  • A police case has been registered and he has been arrested.
  • However, Gupta blamed tainted post-surgery drugs for the deaths.
  • In January, Gupta was feted by the State Government for performing 50,000 laparoscopic tubectomies.
  • Reports say that Gupta was likely under pressure to achieve his district's target of about 15,000 sterilizations.

Why women choose sterilization?

  • The government provides cash and other incentives to encourage women to undergo the operation.
  • They are promised 1,400 rupees to have laparoscopic, or "keyhole," sterilization surgeries like those conducted in Bilaspur. 
  • Due to cultural taboos, less than 1 percent of men choose to undergo vasectomies even though the cash incentive is higher at about 2,000 rupees.
  • Winter is also known as "sterilization season" as the weather is cool, reducing the risk of infection.
  • During this period, the state governments rush to meet targets before the end of the financial year in March.

Is the Government guilty?

  • Government had said it stopped setting targets for sterilizing women in the 1990s. 
  • But doctors and human rights workers have alleged for years that targets exist.
  • Reports say that incentive and government quotas make doctors pressurize patients into surgery.

Sterilization has a checkered history

  • In 1970s, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi introduced a mass sterilization program for Indian men who had two or more children. 
  • The program sparked violent protests, and was dropped.
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