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Bishop decries forced sterilization

Doctors under the spotlight for alleged hysterectomy policy

Mariola Sequeira, Ajmer

April 21, 2011

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Forced hysterectomies of poor but healthy women in northwestern Rajasthan have outraged women's groups and human rights activists, who have been joined in their campaign against the practice by Bishop Oswald Lewis of Jaipur. The prelate was reacting to reports that doctors in some private hospitals in two towns in the state had removed womens' uteruses under the pretext of treating cancer. The diocese covers two towns, Bandikui and Dausa. An inquiry has reportedly revealed that the doctors operated on 385 women and performed the operation on 226 of them during March-September last year. The doctors conducted the surgery as part of a federal welfare scheme, Janani Suraksha Yojna (JSY, women protection project). The government withdrew the licenses of four hospitals in Dausa to run this project after the scandal was exposed. The Prabhudasi (servant of the Lord) Sisters of Ajmer, a local congregation, manages a maternity care home in Bandikui. Sister Berchmans, a senior nurse, said that after the expose four private hospitals closed and a doctor requested her to shut down their hospital too to show solidarity. “We partially closed our maternity care center since we need the help of these doctors in this rural station. But we did not send away the two expectant mothers who were already admitted into the dispensary.” Mary Macwan, a Catholic nurse in a government hospital at Sawai Madhopur, says rampant corruption is going on under the JSY program under the National Rural Health Mission that aims to prove better diet for pregnant women of poor families. JSY aims to reduce over all maternal mortality ratio and infant mortality rate. It allows a field health worker to care for poor dalit and tribal women above 19 and up to two live births. The scheme provides cash assistance during pregnancy, institutional care during delivery and immediate care after delivery. However, “unscrupulous doctors in villages make a fast buck” by compelling women to go in for hysterectomy, Macwan told Women with minor ailments also are told they could have cancer and are advised to have the operation, she said. Doctors charged up to 20,000 rupees (US$445) for  surgery.
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