Eight women have died after undergoing sterilization surgery at a government-run “camp” in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, state officials said on Tuesday. Ten more women who also had the procedure were in serious condition.
The women fell ill on Monday after having laparoscopic tubectomies two days earlier at a so-called family planning camp at a village. Such camps are held regularly in Chhattisgarh and other Indian states as part of a long-running effort to control India’s booming population.
The 83 women who underwent tubectomies at the camp received incentive payments of 1,400 rupees ($23) to have the surgery, according to R.K. Bhange, Bilaspur’s chief medical officer. Health workers also got 200 ($3.25) rupees for bringing a woman to the camp.
The cause of the deaths of the eight women had not been determined, according to Bhange, but he said they had been vomiting before they died.
Senior state health officials have been sent to investigate.
“As of now, the government has not found any evidence of negligence,” said Bhange. He said the government doctors who had performed the surgeries were experienced in the procedure.
Deaths due to sterilization are not a new problem in India, where more than four million sterilizations were performed in 2013-14, according to the government.
Between 2009 and 2012, the government paid compensation for 568 deaths resulting from sterilization, the health ministry said in an answer to a question in parliament two years ago.
Health advocates worry that paying women to undergo sterilization at family planning camps is both dangerous and, by default, limits their contraceptive choices.
“The payment is a form of coercion, especially when you are dealing with marginalized communities,” said Kerry McBroom, director of the Reproductive Rights Initiative at the Human Rights Law Network in New Delhi.
She said basic care at the camps is often inadequate, with surgeries rushed through in unhygienic conditions.
Pratap Singh, commissioner of Chhattisgarh’s Department of Health and Family Welfare, told Reuters that the state’s sterilization program was entirely voluntary.
The United Nations expressed concern.
“If the facts are confirmed, then a grave human tragedy has occurred,” said Kate Gilmore, deputy executive director of the U.N. Population Fund.
“Where there is deviation from clinical standards, there must be consequences.”