Dr Jekyll would have been proud of Chhattisgarh. Year after year, the state gives its doctors an opportunity to conduct experiments on unsuspecting patients. Only the doctors can tell how to kill patients while performing something as routine as a cataract operation or sterilisation. Dozens have lost their lives in free eye and sterilisation camps in the past three years. In the end, all it leads to is a routine inquiry, maybe a suspension, but never a punishment.
On 9 November, Dr RK Gupta arrived at Pendari village in Bilaspur with his team of paramedics. The much-awarded doctor immediately got to work, opening up and suturing 83 women in six hours. He was so dedicated and single-minded in his approach that people feared he could end up breaking some world record.
All the women received ciprofloxacin and Brufen tablets. After the women complained of pain, the expiry dates on all medicines were checked. They were found to be in order. So, finally the laparoscope was checked and it appears it may have been the source of contamination.
At last count, 14 women lost their lives. Of the 83 women, 56 reported unbearable pain, while a dozen are on the deathbed. Dr Gupta has been suspended. Director (health) Kamalpreet Singh has been asked to step down. However, the health minister under whose charge this impressive medical record has been collected is Amar Agarwal who remains unaffected and untouched so far.
If it amazes you that the state can continue collecting such dubious records and the citizens don’t raise a stink, then consider this. A sum of Rs 4 lakh was immediately awarded to the next of kin of those who lost their lives and Rs 50,000 to those on the verge of losing it. In a cash-strapped state, whose annual per capita income is at least Rs 25,000 less than the national average, Rs 4 lakh means a lot. The national media is too far away and too busy with its own agenda. The state falls in the news shadow area, so nothing happens to the Dr Jekylls here.
Union Health Minister JP Nadda has dispatched a team of AIIMS doctors to Bilaspur to probe the tragedy. The four-member team comprises Dr Neena Malhotra, Dr Anjan Trikha, Dr Sanjeev Sinha and Dr Kapil Dev Soni. The panel has been asked to file its report within a week.
After the deadly incident, the operation theatre of the Nemichand Jain Hospital, where the camp was organised, had been sealed. However, it was reported that some miscreants broke the seal before the arrival of the probe team and destroyed vital drugs and documents.
The incident has given rise to allegations that counterfeit drugs were used at the camp. The drugs administered include atropine and diazepam supplied by Nandini Medical Labs, Indore, Fortwin injection supplied by Magna Laboratories, Gujarat, and Brufen tablets supplied by Gene Laboratories Ltd, Nagpur. District Collector Siddarth Komal Pardeshi said he had no information about the destruction, adding that the operation theatre had been sealed since 10 November.
Meanwhile, seven women are reported to be in a critical condition after undergoing surgery at another sterilisation camp organised in Jagdalpur’s Maharani Hospital on 11 November. All victims are residents of Bakawand block in Bastar. The Chief Medical Officer of Bastar, Dr Devendra Nag, has confirmed that cases of excessive bleeding have been reported in the sterilisation camp.
“I have ordered an inquiry into the incident and no one found guilty will escape punishment,” thundered Chief Minister Raman Singh for the nth time.
Standing next to him, his health minister preferred to keep silent as he has done for the past three years. He has several questions to answer. How come the operations were being performed in private hospitals? Why are so many deaths being caused in medical camps organised by the state government to spend Central funds and achieve targets? Does the government also send these figures along with a list of achievements to the Centre?
With a BJP-led NDA government at the Centre and more accountability expected in scheme distribution, the cm has finally decided that there should be a monitoring committee for not just the health department but all departments. Chief Secretary Vivek Dhand has been made in charge. The first thing on his agenda should be to drop all camps that proliferate between the months of October and February to achieve the mandated targets.
Camps Of Death: A timeline of mishaps at medical camps in the state
Nearly 300 operations were performed in Balod village. Four people lost their lives, while 52 lost their eyesight completely. Some paramedics were suspended. An inquiry by a team from AIIMS revealed nothing more sinister than some “unnamed problems with some unnamed medicines”
Against the target of 1,000, experts of the state government performed 1,098 operations in Kawardha. Twenty people lost their eyesight and two lost their lives. An inquiry was inconclusive
Nearly 145 eye operations were performed in Bagbahara. Twelve people reported partial loss of eyesight
Around 200 operations were performed in Durg. Three patients lost their eyesight completely and 12 partially
722 girls in Bilaspur and Raipur complained that their uterus was missing after they were admitted to private clinics running a government sterilisation programme. The doctors’ defence was that the uteruses were cancer-infected. The registration of several doctors was cancelled, but the Indian Medical Association managed to reverse the move
Seven women ended up with severely butchered stomachs during a sterilisation programme in Durg