Saturday, December 6, 2014

Authorities have ordered an investigation after at least 24 poor and elderly people went blind following cataract surgeries performed at a free medical camp run by a charity in northern India

The operations were performed in early November 2014 on 130 patients who were all older than 50 and living in either Amritsar or nearby Gurdaspur, in Punjab state, an official says. Some of the patients reported that they'd lost their eyesight or were suffering infections. Doctors in Amritsar are treating some of the patients, but they say that it's unlikely any will regain their sight. Police have launched an investigation and detained at least one doctor in Gurdaspur. Every year, thousands of people, especially in rural areas without proper health facilities, undergo cataract operations in medical camps held by health authorities and welfare groups. The case once again highlights the perilous state of health care in India, where hundreds of millions of poor people without access to doctors or health insurance are forced to seek treatment at medical camps because of poor services and corruption at government hospitals. Recently, 13 women died after taking tainted drugs after undergoing simple sterilization surgeries. One of the women who died in the botched India sterilization drive was told that she'd receive the equivalent of 10 days' wages and be ready to return to work in the fields in 48 hours. A man received $3,250 from the government after his wife died; most in the area earn less than $5 a day. He brands the money as "useless," saying, "Who is going to take care of my children?" Families say that the women were pressured to take the money and get the surgery — the main method of birth control in the country — but cash incentives drove more than just the victims: Village "motivators" usually get about $2.44 for each patient that they recruit; government nurse-midwives can see their salaries docked if they don't meet "sterilization targets"; and the surgeon involved received about $1.22 per patient. That surgeon, Dr. RK Gupta, has been arrested on culpable homicide charges; at least 13 women who attended the "sterilization camp" have died, and there have been more victims from a second camp. "The surgeries went well but the problem was with the medicines given to the women," Gupta said. Indeed, owners of the factories that produce the drugs used have been called in for questioning, but the exact cause is still not clear. Witnesses tell stories of a dust- and cobweb-strewn clinic and little concern for hygiene. Though Gupta says that he performed 83 surgeries in six hours in one day, one nurse who assisted said that it was more like two hours. Government rules cap a surgeon's daily maximum at 35 operations.

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