RK Gupta says victims showed no signs of infection from dirty equipment and were vomiting before they passed away
New Delhi: The Indian doctor suspended after 11 women died among the 83 he sterilized on a single day last week blamed their deaths on toxic medicine, as initial autopsy results and another surgeon backed his version of events.
R.K. Gupta, 63, said the victims showed no symptoms of infection from dirty equipment and were vomiting before they passed away. He faces a criminal investigation in Chhattisgarh.
“They can’t blame me for murder," Gupta, who said he’s done more than 50,000 sterilization procedures since 1987, said in an interview on Wednesday at his office. “What happened is beyond our imagination. We didn’t even know anything was wrong until one patient suddenly died."
Female sterilization remains the most popular method of population control in India, where public health facilities often lack funding and fake medicines are rampant. The Chhattisgarh tragedy is one of the worst in recent memory from the one-day sterilization drives India regularly holds to keep its 1.2 billion population from growing too fast.
Preliminary post-mortem results show no sign of infection from poor sanitary conditions, said Promod Tewari, the top government medical official in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, the town where the sterilizations occurred. That points to flawed antibiotics and painkillers that were given to patients after the surgery as the cause of death, he said.
Gupta also received backing from K.K. Sao, another doctor who had a similar experience on the same day at a separate sterilization clinic in Chhattisgarh. That incident left one woman dead while 17 others are still in critical condition.
Those women received the same batch of antibiotics and painkillers as Gupta’s patients, said Sao, who said he’s done more than 70,000 such procedures in his career.
“The patients who got medicine from the same batch are either in the hospital or dead," he said.
R.K. Bhange, the chief medical officer for Chhattisgarh, didn’t answer a call to his mobile phone on Wednesday.
Sterilization mishaps are common in India. From April 2010 to March 2013, the government paid about ₹ 51 crore for 15,264 deaths or failed surgeries, Harsh Vardhan, who was India’s health minister at the time, told parliament on 18 July. Sterilizations are voluntary and couples choose between a tubectomy or vasectomy, he said.
Gupta said he conducted the 83 operations over about six hours, with each one taking about five minutes. He blamed the government for making him breach guidelines that limit a doctor from performing more than 30 in a day.
“I am bound by a government order to do as many cases as possible," Gupta said. “And if I don’t, then patients may shout or threaten to physically hurt me. I have no choice."
A local medical official has alleged Gupta failed to comply with guidelines that say the laproscope—a camera attached to a cutting tool—should be disinfected after each use. He said he swapped the laproscopes after about five to seven procedures so they could be sterilized.
“We do as much sanitation as possible—the guidelines say to clean as necessary," Gupta said. Contaminated instruments played no role in the deaths, he said.
“If there had been an infection, there would’ve been symptoms," he said. “Death wouldn’t have happened so suddenly."
Gupta’s patients said they became ill after the surgeries had ended.
‘Conscience is clear’
Soni Jangde, a mother of three who received ₹ 600 to become sterilized, said the operation room was tidy and the procedure went smoothly. She said she suffered a headache and vomiting three hours after arriving home from the surgery.
Shiu Kumari Yadav, 23, had a similar experience. The procedure was “normal" and took five minutes, she said. Even so, she’s done with government-run hospitals.
“I will go to a private hospital," she said. “There we may spend a little more money, but our lives will be secure. I will tell everybody not to go to any government hospital for an operation."
In 2007, India increased incentives for women to undergo sterilization, and focused efforts on Chhattisgarh and other underdeveloped states. India now has the world’s third-highest female sterilization rate after the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico among more than 180 countries tracked by the United Nations.
“I’ve committed no mistake—my conscience is clear," Gupta said, adding that he has done 50,000 surgeries since 1987 without incident. “There was a problem with the medicines." Bloomberg