Tainted drugs suspected in India botched sterilization deaths

The doctor at the center of the operations blamed the deaths on local authorities and bad medicines

Tainted or sub-standard drugs probably led to the deaths of 13 Indian women after sterilization surgery at a family-planning "camp," and owners of the factories that produced them have been summoned for questioning, a senior official said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the doctor who carried out the sterilizations – among 83 performed in less than three hours – at a hospital in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh insisted he didn't do anything wrong, even though he said he used to perform up to 10 times more surgeries a day than allowed. Dr. R.K. Gupta denied reports the equipment he used was rusty or dirty and blamed adulterated medicines for the tragedy.

"I am not the culprit. I have been made (a) scapegoat. It is the administration which is responsible for this incident," Gupta told Reuters in a dimly lit police room after being taken into custody on Wednesday night.

"I have a history of completing up to 200-300 surgeries in one day," he said. "There are no written guidelines, but what we have been told verbally is that we shouldn't perform more than 30 operations in a day."

Gupta said health workers gave the women ciprofloxacin, a commonly prescribed antibiotic, and the painkiller ibuprofen after their operations, which were conducted in a grimy room of an unused private hospital in a village called Pandari.

The government of Chhattisgarh, one of India's poorest states, has since banned medicines used at Gupta's sterilization camp, including Indian-made brands of ciprofloxacin and ibuprofen.

"We have stopped the sale and distribution of all the medicines that were used in the camp," state Chief Minister Raman Singh said, adding that preliminary investigations indicated that sub-standard drugs had been administered.

"Owners of the companies that were responsible for the sale of drugs have been summoned. They will all be questioned and we have sealed their factories," he told reporters.

India is the world's top sterilizer of women, and efforts to rein in population growth have been described as the most draconian after China. Indian birth rates fell in recent decades, but population growth is still among the world's fastest.

With more than four million Indians sterilized every year, a system of quotas encourages officials and doctors to cut corners, activists say.

Rights groups say India's sterilization program is coercive because ill-educated women are often offered money to accept surgery without knowing the full risks. State government officials who run the program are pressed to meet quotas.

"Access to information, informed consent, and quality of services are often sacrificed by this target-driven approach,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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