India's sterilization policy 'was trigger' for eight women's deaths

(Photo: REUTERS / Anindito Mukherjee)Bedan Bai, 70, the mother of a victim who died after undergoing a sterilization surgery at a government mass sterilization camp, holds her granddaughter Kirti outside her house at Bilaspur district in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh November 15, 2014. Tablets linked to the deaths of more than a dozen women who visited a sterilization camp in eastern India are likely to have contained a chemical compound commonly used in rat poison, a senior official in Chhattisgarh state said on Saturday.

India's sterilization campaign is to blame for the recent deaths of eight women in the country says a Catholic bishop in Mumbai.

Mumbai Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Savio Fernandes expressed alarm over the death of the eight women who underwent sterilization procedure at a State-run medical facility in Chhattisgarh recently.

In an interview with AsiaNews, Fernandes lamented the "devastating loss of life" caused by the government program.

He singled out the massive sterilization campaign, saying the program's funding could have been better used to improve the dismal state of health in the country.

"The Catholic Church considers sterilization a grave violation of the moral and natural law," he said.

"The government should improve the condition and equipment of state health facilities, which are generally used by the country's poorest citizens."

The women received tubectomies involving cutting their fallopian tubes in order to prevent pregnancy.

Normally this procedure requires an anesthetic, but the Chhattisgarh women were not given any, Catholic News Agency reported.

Some 83 women underwent the operation on November 14 as they joined the annual program for Chhattisgarh state's family planning drive.

Aside from the eight deaths, more than 25 women were listed in a serious condition.

The state government suspended doctors who operated, as a fact-finding team pieced together information to assess what could have gone wrong in the procedure.

Authorities maintained that medical staff were not negligent. Witnesses claimed the medical staff was in a hurry to conduct sterilization procedures to meet a target.

India offers free sterilization procedures to women as it tries to grapple with its rapid population growth as the world's second most populous nation with its 1.24 billion population.

Poor women are often targeted in the campaign, which offers 1,400 rupees (USD $23) for those who will avail of the procedure.

Many women, however, are reportedly unaware they would no longer be able to bear children after the procedure.

Dr. Pascoal Carvalho, a Mumbai-based member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told AsiaNews that about 66 percent of contraceptive use in the country involves sterilization.

"In 1952, India became the first country in the world to launch an official family planning program with the aim of reducing population growth," he said.

"Most tragically it was Western governments who created an incentive for the sterilization program by leveraging food aid for family planning," he said.

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