Eight Indian women have died and 20 others were in critical condition Tuesday after undergoing sterilization surgeries in a free government-run camp to help slow the country's population growth.
A total of 83 women, all poor villagers under the age of 32, had the operations Saturday in a hospital outside Bilaspur city in the central state of Chhattisgarh, officials said. All 83 surgeries were conducted within six hours, said the state's chief medical officer, Dr. S.K. Mandal.
"That is not usual," he said. He declined to comment further on what might have gone wrong until autopsies are conducted on the victims.
According to The Guardian, such camps are held regularly across India as part of an effort to control India's booming population.
Each of the women had received a payment of 600 rupees, or about $10, to participate in the sterilization program, Mandal said.
The women were sent home Saturday evening after their surgeries, but more than two dozen were later rushed in ambulances to private hospitals after becoming ill. By Tuesday, eight of the women had died — apparently from either blood poisoning or hemorrhagic shock, which occurs when a person has lost too much blood, state deputy health director Amar Singh told the Press Trust of India news agency.
Twenty other women were in critical care, according to the district magistrate, Siddharth Komal Pardeshi.
"Their condition is very serious. Blood pressure is low," said Dr. Ramesh Murty at CIMS hospital, one of the facilities where the sick women were taken. "We are now concentrating on treating them, not on what caused this."
The state suspended four government doctors, including the surgeon who performed the operations and the district's chief medical officer. It also will give compensation payments of about $6,600 to each of the victims' families.
The state's surgeons met Tuesday night to discuss whether to continue the state's sterilization schedule, with a target of 180,000 for the year ending in March set by the central government, Mandal said. He said the quota for Bilaspur district for the year was around 12,000.
Activists blame sterilization quotas for leading health authorities to pressure patients into surgery rather than advising them on other forms of contraception.
"These women have become victims because of the target-based approach to population control," said Brinda Karat of the All India Democratic Women's Association, while demanding that the state's health minister resign.