India sterilisation deaths: Chhattisgarh inquiry ordered

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Media captionMany women are given an incentive to be sterilised, as Yogita Limaye reports

The government of the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh has ordered an inquiry into the deaths of 11 women who underwent botched sterilisation surgery at a state-run health camp.

About 50 others are in hospital and at least 20 are in a critical condition following the tubectomy operations.

Health camps are staged throughout India to control its huge population.

More people live in the country than in the US, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan and Bangladesh combined.

The 2011 census shows that the country's population is now 1.21 billion, which means that India is on course to overtake China as the world's most populous nation by 2030.

'Medical negligence'

The tubectomies were carried out on Saturday in Pendari village in Bilaspur district.

Chhattisgarh health officials quoted by the Hindustan Times denied any responsibility for the deaths, but some suggested that medics were under pressure from the authorities to perform too much sterilisation surgery in too little time.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The deaths have once again drawn attention to India's efforts to reduce its population

State Chief Minister Raman Singh was reported by the newspaper to have suspended four senior health officials over the deaths, while a complaint to police has been filed against the surgeon who allegedly performed the operations.

Mr Singh said that initial evidence suggested that the deaths were caused by medical negligence.

"A detailed inquiry will be conducted into it keeping in view all the angles, including the quality of the medicines at the camp, standard of the surgery, post-operative measures and others," the chief minister was quoted as saying.

The state government has also said that compensation will be paid to the affected families.

Chhattisgarh Health Minister Shripad Naik could not say by when the report would be submitted, only that it would be completed "soon".

Most of those operated on in state-run sterilisation camps are women - many of them poor and often being paid to be sterilised.

Villagers say 83 women - all between the ages of 26 and 40 - were operated on in just six hours by one doctor and his assistant.

Reports say the women started complaining of pain and fever soon afterwards. A relative described the conditions at the clinic as "a desolate place" with "appalling" facilities.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Correspondents say that victims come from very poor families
Image copyright Alok Putul/ BBC
Image caption Doctors say many of the women are still in a critical condition

Preliminary examinations showed the deaths had been caused by infection or shock as a result of blood loss, state deputy health director Amar Singh told the Press Trust of India news agency.

But health officials told BBC Hindi that the cause of the deaths would be known only after post-mortem reports were available.

Correspondents say all the women came from very poor families. Those who survived are receiving treatment in three different hospitals in the district.

Image copyright Alok Putul/ BBC
Image caption Dozens of women are being treated in three hospitals in the district

Among those suspended is a doctor who won a government award last year for having conducted 50,000 sterilisations, says BBC Hindi's Alok Putul.

Botched sterilisation operations are nothing new in India.

In January 2012, three men were arrested in Bihar state for operating on 53 women in two hours. The men had carried out operations in a field and without the use of anaesthesia.

Explaining female sterilisation: Michelle Roberts, Health editor, BBC News website

Female sterilisation works by sealing the fallopian tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the womb. This can be done using clips, clamps or small rings or by tying and cutting the tube - this stops the egg and sperm meeting, so pregnancy can't occur.

Eggs will still be released from the ovaries as normal, but they will be reabsorbed by the body instead.

The procedure is very effective and straightforward when carried out correctly and by a highly trained professional. But it is not without risks.

It requires an anaesthetic and there is a risk of damage to other organs during the procedure. There can be bleeding and infection too. It should also be considered permanent - it is difficult to reverse.

Authorities in India have been promoting family planning for several decades, trying to convince people to have smaller families.

Why do Indian women go to sterilisation camps?

Sterilisation camps are frequently held to carry out mass tubectomy operations for women - or vasectomies for men - and in some states, health workers receive money for each person they bring to a clinic to be sterilised.

Reports say a sum of about $20 was given to each of the women at the Bilaspur district camp.

The decision to be sterilised is voluntary, although in some cases women are put under pressure by officials. Figures show the vast majority opting for sterilisations are poor women from rural areas.

India abandoned a nationwide campaign in the 1970s after complaints that thousands of men and women had been forced into having the operations. Successive governments have failed to control India's population growth rate, which stands at 1.6% a year.

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