Bad Meds Suspected in Death of 13 Women at Sterilization Camp

By Victoria Kim 11/18/14
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Tainted medications might be to blame for the deaths of more than a dozen women at a government sterilization camp in India on Saturday, according to a district medical officer.

Initially, health officials suspected that the thirteen women had died of septic shock from infections contracted during their tubal ligation operations. But the post-mortem examinations paint a different picture. “Our earlier claim that the deaths were due to septicemia seem to be coming off,” Dr. M.A. Jeemani reported on Thursday. “What I have gathered after the first few post-mortems is that it could be due to the administering of spurious medicines.”

The pills in question—the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, and the anti-inflammatory and painkiller ibuprofen—were sent home with each patient after surgery. However, the presence of affected patients who fell ill or those who died was not limited to one sterilization camp.

Patients at another sterilization clinic, with a different surgeon, were sickened and hospitalized as well. This has led authorities to believe a tainted batch of ciprofloxacin and ibuprofen are to blame.

“We cannot conclude anything at this point, but we are not ignoring the fact that the deaths happened at multiple camps, which indicate that there is some role of the drugs,” said Sonmani Borah, the divisional commissioner.

On Thursday, a 75-year-old man, who did not undergo surgery but received medicine from the same batches, died as well. In India, women are offered cash and other incentives to be sterilized at “fairs” or “camps.” At the Saturday “fair,” Dr. R.K. Gupta, who operated on most of the women, performed 83 surgeries in about six hours.

Gupta, who was arrested on charges of culpable homicide last week, claimed he was pressured to meet sterilization quotas from local authorities, even though under the national government, the practice of setting quotas for the number of women sterilized allegedly ended in the 1990s.

Shipments and distribution of the suspected medications have been confiscated and halted by state authorities.

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