Taking suo motu cognisance of media reports, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Thursday issued a notice to the Maharashtra health secretary, asking for a probe report on the Washim cataract surgery camp that led to eye infection in 33 patients and loss of vision of at least three. In its notice, the NHRC has demanded a reply within two weeks.
The infection spread due to poor sterilisation procedures adopted while conducting cataract procedures on patients under the free National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) in Washim Civil hospital. “The Commission observed that contents of the press report, if true, raise a serious issue of violation of human rights. Accordingly, it issued a notice to the Principal Secretary, Department of Health, Government of Maharashtra calling for a report within two weeks,” the NHRC release read.
Principal Health Secretary Sujata Saunik claimed that the notice had not been received by her office yet. When contacted, Directorate of Health Services (DHS) claimed it received no official word on the notice.
In mid-October, 171 patients underwent free cataract surgeries at Washim hospital following which 33 patients, between 55 and 90 years, suffered eye infection due to pseudomonas bacteria. Preliminary investigations found that instruments used during the cataract surgery were not sterilised in auto-claving chambers as per protocol of NPCB, instead they were dipped in a boiler. Additionally, significant delay was observed in providing correct treatment to these patients to reverse the effects of infection.
Several patients lost their eyesight after they suffered a delay in treatment first at Washim facility and later at Akola’s Government Medical College (GMC), where they were referred to by Washim authorities. On October 30, after the incident was brought to the public health department’s notice, 23 patients were shifted to Mumbai’s JJ hospital while six were treated at Akola, two at Jalna Civil Hospital and one at Nagpur’s GMC.
The NHRC made the following observations: “Reportedly flouting guidelines, Washim Hospital authorities did not inform local authorities when the patients suffered complications and sent them to the Government Medical College in Akola, which did not have a retinal surgeon.”
The two doctors who performed the surgeries— Sulekha Mendhe and Prakash Chavan—and a nurse and two operation theatre technicians have been suspended. “We recently called a meeting of all district level officers to revive SOPs necessary while performing mass surgeries under health camps. A committee of senior doctors is also going to submit its report,” said Dr Satish Pawar, Director at DHS.
According to Dr Ragini Parekh, head of ophthalmology at JJ hospital, four of the 23 patients continue to be under observation in hospital. “We have to wait for six weeks to understand if the infection is permanent. We suspect two or three currently admitted may not get their vision back.” The admitted patients are suffering from vitreous haemorrhage, a rare condition in which blood leaks into the eye.