Aparajita Ray & Mouneshwar Sonnad| TNN |
Women and activist groups are criticizing the government for not shutting down hospitals involved in the racket. Though the racket was busted in August 2015 and the health department‘s enquiry committee report in October 2015 cancelled the licenses of four hospitals, they are functioning even today.
On Monday, thousands of affected women and activists protested in front of the office of the Kalaburgi deputy commissioner, and raised their voice through NGOs like Alternate Law Forum, Vimochana and Swaraj Abhiyan in Bengaluru. Vinay Sreenivasa, advocate and member of ALF said, “The hospitals used these women to make a quick buck. It is gross violation of human rights and should be a non-cognizable offence under the IPC, Karnataka Medical Council Act. The government must book doctors in the four hospitals, and the hospital managements under the IPC and close them permanently. It also calls for stricter regulation of the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act, 2007.”
The Women’s Commission took up a suo motu case against the hospitals, and filed its investigation report the same year.
According to the inquiry report filed by the health department, a copy of which is with TOI, hysterectomies (surgery to remove the uterus) was unnecessarily done. Most of the women had approached the doctors complaining of minor ailments like stomach ache or pelvic pain or white discharge.
“Most of the women had vague lower abdominal pain and low backache, for which they approached doctors in the hospitals. They were subjected to ultrasound examination and were given some medication for a short period. During subsequent visits, without subjecting the women to further evaluation, women who failed to get any relief were told that they would develop cancer of the uterus if they do not undergo a hysterectomy. This particular sequence of events was the same in most cases. These women were not given any other treatment options. For fear of developing cancer, these women underwent hysterectomy operations. The team also came to know about agencies working for hospitals which would offer monetary incentives for frontline workers like ASHA/Anganwadi workers to get patients to their hospitals for surgeries. However, they refused to give us a written statement to substantiate this…After the enquiry, the committee felt that many hysterectomies were done with no proper indications. The women who could have conservative management have been subjected to hysterectomies,” the report reads.
The report also says that the women who were targeted were not just poor but 40%-50% of them were below the age of 40 years. One of the four hospitals involved in the racket, Basava Hospital, is registered in the name of a doctor who is a government servant, which is a violation of ‘conduct rules’, it reveals.
Vinay added, “One of the reasons why the hospitals even function till today is because of the connivance of local health officials with the culprits. And that Kalaburgi is far away from sight for the state government. If it was Bengaluru, they may have taken stern steps.”
Victims living with complications, pain
Bengaluru: Two years ago, Pinky Rathod visited a doctor in Noola Hospital in Kalaburgi district with a complaint of stomach ache. She was told that her uterus had developed an infection with ‘pimple-like formations’ which needed to be removed. When she asked if medicines could cure her, the doctors insisted that removal was the only option.
Belonging to the Lambani community in Belangi Thanda (settlements of the tribal community) in Aland taluk, she had no money to afford the surgery but she borrowed Rs 20,000 from her mother and was admitted to hospital. “First the doctors pretended that removal of the uterus was urgent but after admission, they kept delaying the operation, saying there were more important patients to be operated on. On the third day, they removed my uterus. But two years on, the stomach pain still persists,” she told TOI.
Pinky, then 22, had two children and had developed many health complications, says Dr Akhila Vasan, who is fighting for these women in Kalaburgi.
Activist and member of Swaraj Abhiyan, Pratima R Naik remembers the death of Savita Raju Rathore, 35, from Kinnisarfoz thanda of Kalaburgi taluk, after a hysterectomy. “It was an unnecessary hysterectomy. She was admitted on the grounds of having a mass in her abdomen. She died on the operation table in Basava Hospital. Later, it was found to be negligence on the part of the doctors. The family had at first not supported her in undergoing this operation. Many women like her are now suffering from hormonal imbalance related ailments and are not supported by their families,” she said.
This has been happening for more than 30 months, said the activists. “This first came to light in August 2015 when some women who had undergone surgeries shared their stories with the Karnataka Jana Arogya Chaluvali, a public health movement. As many as 2,200 cases are reported through proper enquiries by the health department. But the number could be much more. These are only 38 thandas (settlements of tribal communities) in Kalaburgi district,” said Kavitha S, from Vimochana, an NGO.
The health department set up an enquiry committee on September 5, 2015, which came out with shocking investigations in just a month. The doctors and experts on the committee examined 66 women who had undergone the procedure. “Medical records of 44 were unnecessary…reports of the rest of the 22 women were incomplete and hence it cannot be determined whether their surgeries were necessary or not. Scan reports of 18 women said their uteruses were normal.”
It also collated the number of hysterectomies conducted in 25 hospitals in the district in 2014-15 and found it to be seven times higher in private hospitals when compared to government hospitals. Noola Surgical and Maternity Hospital, one of the four hospitals involved in the racket, conducted 900 operations in the 30-month period before August 2015.
Detailed investigations revealed that diagnosis of most of the women who underwent hysterectomies was cervicitis, some cases were of dyspareunia and vague pelvic pain which do not warrant hysterectomy.
Another piece of crucial information the report revealed was that none of these hospitals maintained an OT register in a proper format, and many entries did not contain the age of the patient and indication for the surgery. Medical ethics practiced worldwide mandate an OT register in proper format to avoid legal liability.
Women demand compensation, hospitals be shut
On Monday, hundreds of women who were victims of the racket protested at the deputy commissioner’s office, demanding compensation from the government and immediate shutting down of the four hospitals.
Women under the banner of the Karnataka Janarogya Chaluvali (KJC), a non-government organization working in the field of health in rural areas, revealed that hundreds of unwanted hysterectomies had been performed. Younger women said they were suffering from the complications and side-effects now.