Norms flouted at Punjab and Himachal eye camps

Doctor who performed surgeries at Punjab camp has been arrested while officials of the NGO are still on the run

By Sabreen Haziq
Published: Thursday 25 December 2014

Representative pic, a free eye camp (Photo courtesy Guru Nanak Charitable Trust)

After 40 people allegedly losing their vision after failed cataract surgeries in Punjab, nearly 10 people met a similar fate at an eye camp in Himachal Pradesh.

The camps in Punjab were organised by a Mathura-based non-profit SKM and the surgeries were performed by Jalandhar-based ophthalmologist Vivek Arora who was later arrested.

Rakesh Gupta, state programme officer for National Programme for Control of Blindness told Down to Earth, “The NGO from Mathura had organised the eye-screening camps for cataract operations at four places in Punjab, including two camps in Amritsar, one in Gurdaspur and one in Hoshiarpur.” He further added that surgeries were conducted in three phases and about 40 patients had complained of infection in their eyes till date and were seeking treatment at Government Medical College, Amritsar.

A number of rules were allegedly flouted during the surgeries. The camps were organised without permission from civil surgeon of Gurdaspur. While a doctor is allowed to perform only 25 surgeries a day, this doctor performed 33 surgeries. The operations were conducted at a general ward which reflects that there was no dedicated operation theatre for eye surgeries.

Amritsar-based civil surgeon Rajiv Bhalla said that he had no clue about the NGO organising the eye camps. Neither he nor his Gurdaspur counterpart, Rajnish Sood, gave permission to organise the camps. He said, “At least 36 people have complained of losing their eyesight after the surgery.”

What guidelines say

According to the guidelines that have been issued by the government,  NGOs registered under the National Programme for Control of Blindness are required to seek permission from the civil surgeon of the respective areas before organising such camps.

Vivek Arora, the doctor who performed the surgeries, has been arrested but the director and other officials of the NGO are still on the run. A case against Sri Krishna Eye Hospital in Mathura, where the accused doctor used to work, has also been registered.

Meanwhile, the state government has announced a compensation of Rs one lakh to the people who lost their eyesight after the surgery. Days after this episode of negligence, at least 10 people reported loss of vision in a similar surgery in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district, said an NDTV report. According to several reports, about 60 people from Punjab's Pathankot and Himachal Pradesh were operated upon at the eye camp in Kandwal village out of which at least 10 of them said they had lost their vision after the surgery.

Anil Mahindra, a civil surgeon from Pathankot, sent a team of experts to Himachal Pradesh who discovered that 60 patients were identified for surgeries in the camp. Five out of the 60 patients have been traced.

Kamal K Mahawar, a bariatric surgeon, said, “Free camps are easy way for doctors to become famous in their local community. It satisfies their philanthropic instinct. Patients, on the other hand, value the free service and organisers gain social and political capital”.

The camps are believed to have taken place in "severely unhygienic conditions" with poorly sterilised equipment which resulted in post-operation infection as most of the patients in both cases complained of irritation just after the surgery.

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