Taking suo moto cognizance, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Thursday issued a notice to the health secretary of Maharashtra asking for a detailed report on the Washim cataract surgery camp, that led to eye infection in at least 32 patients and loss of vision in many. In its notice, the NHRC demands a reply within two weeks.
The NHRC took notice of media reports which highlighted poor sterilisation procedures adopted while conducting cataract procedures on patients under the free National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) in the Washim district hospital in October. “The Commission has observed that the contents of the press report, if true, raise a serious issue of violation of human rights of the victims. Accordingly, it has issued a notice to the Principal Secretary, Department of Health, Government of Maharashtra calling for a report within two weeks,” the release by NHRC read.
In mid-October, 171 patients underwent free cataract surgeries at Washim Civil hospital following which 33 patients, between the age of 55 to 90 years, suffered an eye infection due to a bacteria called pseudomonas. Several infected patients lost their eye sight after they suffered delay in treatment first at the Washim facility and later at Akola’s Government Medical College (GMC).
On October 30, 23 patients were shifted to city’s JJ hospital in Mumbai while six were treated at Akola, two at Jalna Civil Hospital and one at Nagpur’s GMC. Preliminary investigations found that instruments used during the surgery were not sterilised in auto-claving chambers as per protocol, instead they were dipped in a boiler. Additionally, significant delay was observed in providing correct treatment to these patients to reverse the infection’s effects.
The NHRC also made the following observations: “Reportedly, flouting the guidelines, the Washim Hospital authorities did not inform the local authorities when the patients suffered complications and sent them to the Government Medical College in Akola, which did not have a retinal surgeon.”
According to senior state officials, despite complaints by patients of severe eye pain, discharge from eyes and vision problems, standard operating procedures were not followed in treating them. As per the NPCB, the state health department must be immediately notified if more than two persons suffer reaction after any surgery in the free camps organised by the government.