Harmful sterilisation in West Bengal

A banned female sterilisation method is in use in the rural areas of West Bengal, Karnataka, Punjab and Gujarat. So concludes a study conducted by researchers from Canada-based McGill University. Its results, made public during a meet organised in New Delhi on December 4, 2003, are alarming, as the method is known to cause genetic mutation

 
By Sujoy Dhar, Sarita Bahl
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

a banned female sterilisation method is in use in the rural areas of West Bengal, Karnataka, Punjab and Gujarat. So concludes a study conducted by researchers from Canada-based McGill University. Its results, made public during a meet organised in New Delhi on December 4, 2003, are alarming, as the method is known to cause genetic mutation. Numerous studies point to its potential risks of cancer, birth defects and toxicity. In 1994, the World Health Organization had urged the global community to stop the trials of the method called quinacrine sterilisation (qs). The warning, however, was ignored by most, and qs is at present being used in more than 20 countries. In India, even a ban imposed by the Supreme Court (sc) in 1998 is openly flouted.

During the study, conducted in the Uluberia district of West Bengal, it was found that five of the 32 women examined underwent qs after the sc ban. One of them is now suffering from cancer of the cervix (mouth of the uterus). "The fate of the others could be the same because it may take 20 years for the cancer to develop after qs," says Sanjib Mukherjee, who did the gynaecology examination of the women.

Without being informed about the adverse impacts, the women are made guinea pigs. No follow-up is conducted. Sterilisation is done by the village quacks, who rather than telling the women about the ban, just project the advantages of qs -- it is cheap, non-surgical and the women can start working immediately after undergoing the treatment. The method basically involves two insertions of pellets in the uterus, which cost Rs 265 each.

The lax attitude of the health authorities facilitates the violation of the sc order. "We are aware of the abuse, but we do not have the infrastructure to stop it," says Krishnansu Roy of the West Bengal drug control department. The Drug Controller General of India (dcgi) is the nodal agency to implement the ban; its officials refused to comment when questioned about the sad state of affairs. "The dcgi officials have lame excuses. They assert that such trials are bound to happen in a liberalised country," says Laxmi Murthy, member of Saheli, a New Delhi-based women's activist group. "Ironically, the officials promote the method in the name of providing wider contraceptive choices," reveals Shree Mulay, the lead researcher.

Sunil Pandya, member of the Mumbai-based Forum for Medical Ethics, asserts that the sc ban will remain a paper tiger, as the national medical ethics code to scrutinise research projects and drug trials is yet to come into force. The New Delhi-based Indian Council of Medical Research (icmr) has formulated the code. However, Vasantha Muthuswamy, senior deputy director-general of icmr, admits that even if the code is implemented, it will be powerless to deal with the qs crisis. The only solution, she opines, is to convert the icmr code into an act. "But how will this help? History is a proof of the fact that acts are easily violated in our country," asserts Mira Shiva, head of Voluntary Health Association of India, a New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation. According to Mulay, so long as family planning programmes remain divorced from primary health care, such abuses will continue.

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