A report by Sama Resource Group for Women and Health, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan and National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights
The tragic deaths of the 13 women, all in their 20s or 30s and the critical condition of the 70 other women, following procedures of laparoscopic sterilisation in Bilaspur district, Chhattisgarh, raise grave questions once again about the callous treatment of women, the poor and marginalised as well as the clear violations of ethical and quality norms in the health care system. This unacceptable incident calls urgent attention to the unsafe, unhygienic conditions and the slipshod manner in which the sterilisations were conducted resulting in deaths and morbidities among the women.
On 8th and 10th November 2014, four sterilisation camps for women were held in Sakri Pendari, Gourella, Pendra and Marwahi, in Takhatpur block of Bilaspur district. Nearly 140 women were brought to these camps for sterilisation. The largest of these camps for 83 women was conductedwithin a short span of 3-4 hours, in the abandoned private charitable Nemichand Jain Hospital and Research Centre in Pendari. The building is located 6 kilometres from Bilaspur city. It is a non functional health facility that had been abandoned for the past many years.
Twelve of the 13 unfortunate deaths were of women who had undergone sterilisations in the camp held at the Nemichand Jain hospital building. Amongst those who died were women from dalit, adivasi / tribal and OBC (Other Backward Classes) communities. Most of the families were landless and their main source of income was daily-wage work. Many women who lost their lives had up to 3 children. Some of them, with infants as small as 3 months old, had undergone the sterilisation surgeries.
The surgeries were performed by Dr R. K. Gupta, a surgeon, who was assisted by a team of fellow medical professionals. Dr R.K. Gupta had been honoured previously by the State government for the ‘distinction’ of conducting the ‘maximum number of sterilisations’. Dr Gupta was subsequently arrested on charges of negligence and attempted culpable homicide following this tragedy. Indian Medical Association, Chhattisgarh Unit called for state wide strike on Saturday, 15th November, 2014 in support of Dr RK Gupta.
There were also reports of the women having fallen ill after consuming ciprofloxacin tablets that were provided to them following the surgeries at the Camp. State officials initially said that they believed that the women had contracted infections because of the poor conditions in the camp. It was also suspected that the ciprofloxacin tablets given to the women post-surgery were contaminated with zinc phosphide, a rat poison. The Police detained Ramesh Mahawar and Sumit Mahawar – father and son, who run Mahawar Pharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd., a Chhattisgarh based pharma company, which supplied the ciprofloxacin. This is currently being investigated by the State government. While the post mortem reports have been kept under wraps, the officials suspected that it could well be a combination of both septicaemia and toxicity arising from the contaminated antibiotic.