Tag Archive for Women’s health rights

Chhattisgarh sterilization deaths: Surgeon goes scot- free, activists write to CM

sterilization deaths

13 women lost their lives in November 2014 after undergoing sterilization surgery performed in Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh. A criminal case was lodged against the surgeon Dr. R.K. Gupta and the government set up a one-person judicial enquiry commission headed by Js Anita Jha. The Enquiry report is out and has indicted the surgeon as well as those responsible for organizing the camp.
However, the High Court in Chhattisgarh has disposed of the case – on the procedural grounds that Dr. Gupta was acting as part of his official duty and no previous sanction was obtained from the state government while initiating prosecution against him.

Women´s groups have drafted an open letter to the chief minister of Chhattisgarh to re-instate the case against Dr. Gupta.

Here is the full text of the letter.

Open Letter to CG Chief Minister
​We the undersigned organizations working across the country on health and women’s rights are shocked and dismayed that the case against surgeon Dr. RK Gupta has been dismissed by the Hon’ble High Court on the grounds that “the alleged act committed by the petitioner was while acting in discharge of his official duty and admittedly no previous sanction was obtained before initiating prosecution case against him”.

As the Anita Jha Judicial Enquiry Commission report has clearly pointed out that “It is evident from the facts that in the camps organized on 8.11.2014 and 10.11.2014 there was a breach in the important necessities hence the standard operating procedure were not followed. As a result of which the symptoms of infections were found in post operative female beneficiaries”. It further states that “On the background of deliberation of investigation point number 1 to 3, investigation committee has found following persons Guilty/responsible, functionary, during 08 and 10 November, 2014:- 4.1 For not following standard procedures and for medical negligence by immediate functionary Block Medical Officer, Takhatpur…………….and surgeon who conducted surgery in tubectomy camp at Sakri and Gaurella.( Surgeries were completed by the same surgeon in the both camps)”.

It is a pity that the Hon. High Court has dismissed the case purely on technical grounds, thereby denying justice to the bereaved families of those 13 young women who died in Bilaspur district, the many more women who suffered serious illness in hospitals and the many small children deprived of their mothers’ care. However, the Hon’ble Court in its judgement has stated that “the respondents State shall be free to take previous sanction of the State Govt. in this regard if it still desires to prosecute the petitioner and in the event of obtaining sanction, they would be at liberty to further prosecute the petitioner. It is made clear that this Court has not given any opinion on the merits of the case as the prosecution case was not sustainable on the preliminary objection itself and the merits of the case is still left open to be considered and adjudicated upon at a subsequent appropriate stage if the situation so arises”….

We would thus request that your government put the wheels of justice back on track, and immediately give permission for prosecution of surgeon Dr. RK Gupta, to ensure that this case becomes a deterrent example for anyone who tries to subvert the Sterilization Guidelines.

We are also very disappointed to note that the Chhattisgarh government has greatly reduced provision of sterilization services as a public health service in government facilities, forcing poor women to take recourse to the private sector at extremely high cost and inconvenience.

We would urge you to please reconsider this decision and make these services available in the public hospitals both for men and women, while ensuring high quality and informed choice for those who opt for this contraceptive method.
We look forward to your active cooperation and support on these two issues,.

Health rights activists say NO to HPV Vaccine


Following the government’s decision to conduct a feasibility study to introduce a vaccine for Human Papillomavirus (HPV), public health activists and women’s groups question the vaccine’s safety and efficacy

By Team FI
Health rights activists, women’s groups and representatives of public health networks have reacted with shock and concern over the Government of India’s recently announced plan to introduce human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in the Universal Immunization Programme (UIP).

In a memorandum sent to the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, the activists state their concerns over the Government’s decision to conduct a feasibility study in order for the vaccine to be used in the country in the next three months. “We are extremely concerned about the long-term safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccines—Gardasil and Cervarix—and strongly feel that it would lead to serious adverse effects for its recipients. The Supreme Court is hearing the writ petitions (Kalpana Mehta and others vs Union of India & Others; Writ Petition Sama and others vs Union of India & Others) that have raised important questions regarding the vaccine’s safety and efficacy as well as its relevance and priority as a public health measure in India,” states the memorandum.

The Memorandum pointed out the lack of “conclusive evidence” that the vaccine would ensure protection against HPV. “These vaccines have not been in use for long enough to know the level of protection they will offer to young women when they are actually exposed to the risk of HPV infection. The impact of the vaccines on the health of adolescents is also not known,” states the memorandum.

Following is the full text of the Memorandum :

Shri Jagat Prakash Nadda,
Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare,
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,
Nirman Bhavan, Maulana Azad Road,
New Delhi 110 011.

Date: 5 August 2015
Sub: Memorandum regarding the introduction of human papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines in the Universal Immunization Programme.


We, the concerned representatives of public health networks, women’s groups, health researchers, health and women’s rights activists and individuals are writing to you to convey our shock and concern over the Union Government’s plan (reported in Asian Age http://www.asianage.com/india/government-plans-reintroduce-hpv-vaccine-308) to introduce the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in the Universal Immunization Programme (UIP). According to the newspaper report, the Government has asked the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) to conduct a feasibility study in the next three months on the vaccine so that it can be introduced in the country. We are extremely concerned about the long-term safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccines—Gardasil and Cervarix—and strongly feel that it would lead to serious adverse effects for its recipients. The Supreme Court is hearing the writ petitions that have raised important questions regarding the vaccine’s safety and efficacy as well as its relevance and priority as a public health measure in India.

At the outset we would like to bring to your notice that the HPV will by itself not reduce the rate of cervical cancer in India. It is well documented that HPV infection is a necessary cause of cervical cancer; however, since every woman with HPV infection does not develop cervical cancer, it is not necessarily a sufficient cause. Other factors are necessary for progression from cervical HPV infection to cancer. Long-term use of hormonal contraceptives, high parity (number of times given birth), early initiation of sexual activity, multiple sex partners, tobacco smoking and co-infection with HIV have been identified as established factors; co-infection with Chlamydia trachomatis and herpes simplex virus type-2, immuno-suppression, low socioeconomic status, poor hygiene and diet low in antioxidants are other probable factors influencing the progression of cervical cancer. Genetic and immunological host factors and viral factors such as variants of type, viral load and viral integration are likely to be important, though they have not yet been clearly evaluated.

Further, there is a lot unknown about HPV vaccines even today, including whether a repeat dose is required and how long the vaccine might protect from HPV infection. There is no conclusive evidence which suggests that the vaccine will protect girls from acquiring HPV and developing cervical cancer later in their life. These vaccines have not been in use for long enough to know the level of protection they will offer to young women when they are actually exposed to the risk of HPV infection.

The impact of the vaccines on the health of adolescents is also not known. For instance, individual case reports of CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) and POTs (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) have been reported following HPV vaccinations from several countries including Australia, Germany, Japan, the US and Denmark. The Danish Health and Medicines Authority has drawn the attention of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) towards the vaccine’s safety and efficacy and the EMA is currently conducting a review of the vaccine’s safety profile.

There is little evidence of the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccine in the Indian context. These vaccines were hurriedly licensed here, on the basis of grossly insufficient research; the Cervarix trial was restricted to women and Gardasil was introduced after a trial with only 110 girls and no adult women.

Government committees have criticised both scientific and ethical aspects of the vaccines’ introduction in India. The 41st Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee had called for an enquiry into the licensing of the products. However, no enquiry was conducted. The 72nd Parliamentary Standing Committee found gross under-reporting of adverse events in the only large scale “demonstration” study of the two vaccines, on girls between 9 and 16, carried out in Gujarat and Telangana by the US-based NGO Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

A number of girls experienced side effects and at least 7 died post vaccination. The Parliamentary Standing Committee concluded that the girls’ deaths were not properly investigated and that they were instead summarily dismissed as being unrelated to the vaccine. The Committee also concluded that PATH’s demonstration study violated the rights of the vaccinated girls and called for an enquiry by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).

Further, money and resources that would be spent on this vaccine should be spent to strengthen health services including screening for cervical cancer. These include large-scale awareness programmes (including sex education for girls) on HPV, cervical cancer, methods of preventing transmission of sexually transmitted infections, and the need for screening. This will have a far greater impact in reducing the incidence of and mortality from cervical cancer. Indeed, the Planning Commission’s working group on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) for the 12th Five Year Plan recommended that “at this juncture emphasis on availability of HPV vaccine at district level may not be required as simple advice on personal hygiene and early symptoms of Cervix Cancer and training of Health worker in VIA techniques will help in prevention & early detection of cervix cancers”. (Proposal for the 12th five year plan, working group on NCDs, Planning Commission, GoI, pg 100).

Finally, you are well aware that the Supreme Court is still waiting to hear from the DCGI and the ICMR on its order of 12th August 2014, calling on them to produce the files relating to the licensing and collaboration with PATH before the court in the matter of Writ Petition (civil) 558/2012 Kalpana Mehta and others vs Union of India and others and Writ Petition (civil) No.921/2013 Sama and others vs UoI and others. It is unacceptable to ask NTAGI to look into the feasibility of the vaccine when the Health Ministry has failed to comply with the order with respect to licensing that deal with safety and effectiveness of these vaccines.

We sincerely urge you to call an immediate halt to any attempts to introduce the HPV vaccines in the Universal Immunization Programme in the larger interest of the health and well-being of the adolescent girls and women of this country.

Women: Occupy the Left

occupy-wall-street Photo by Marnie Joyce.

For the Left, women’s inequality seems to exist only in the context of the workplace and feminism is largely ignored. There’s hope for the Occupy Movement though, with its ideological openness and the presence of large number of young women activists

By Katha Pollitt

Women’s rights have always been a bit of an add-on for the left. At this spring’s Left Forum, only fifteen of 440 panels touched on any feminist issue, broadly understood. New Left Review is famous, at least in my apartment, for its high testosterone content (despite being edited by a woman); ditto Verso, the left’s flagship publishing house, where women authors are as rare as Siberian tigers. And it’s not just the left—women’s rights, in fact women period, tend to get set aside whenever economics or “class” is the focus.

Occupy Wall Street’s initial declaration, a long list of grievances from colonialism to the maltreatment of “nonhuman animals,” mentioned women’s inequality only in the context of the workplace—no mention of the systematic inequality that affects every area of life. Occupy Austin went further: a paper put out by its Language of Unity Working Group describes Occupy Austin as “radically inclusive,” open to everyone from disaffected Tea Partiers to Greens and anarchists, as well as homeless people and “soccer moms looking for a cause” (not too patronizing!) and highlighting only “the things that bring people together.” “For instance, you will never see Occupy approach the issue of abortion. It is too derisive (sic). Rather than championing one side, the huge innovation of the Occupy movement is its focus only on issues which unite people. We care most about people and care what most people support.”

Hmmm. Let’s leave aside for the moment the question of whether caring “most about people” is compatible with silence on state-mandated transvaginal ultrasounds, personhood amendments and so on—let alone forced childbirth. I would think that when one in three women has at least one abortion, and when virtually all women have used birth control, we are talking about issues that affect “most people”—including most men, who benefit greatly from women’s ability to control their fertility. Let’s not look too closely, either, at the assumption that the 99 percent constitutes a coherent category: that a software engineer, a car salesman, a Chinese-food delivery man, a rabbi, a municipal clerk, a fashion photographer and a cleaning lady really have the same interests. The notion of common cause, even among the actual working class, is as much a romantic and aspirational construction, as much a matter of “identity politics,” as the oft-derided ideal of “sisterhood.”

You know the slogan “Women’s rights are human rights”? Well, women’s rights are economic rights, too. When it comes to reproductive issues, apparently, the connection needs to be spelled out. So here it is: limiting women’s access to birth control and abortion is not “culture war” theater, and it is not just a “social issue” either. It’s an economic issue.

1. Early childbearing, most of which is unplanned, has a big effect on women’s education. According to Centers for Disease Control fact sheet, “Only about 50% of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by 22 years of age, versus approximately 90% of women who had not given birth during adolescence.” While this partly reflects the fact that poorer, less school-oriented girls are more likely to give birth, it’s clear that having a baby as a teenager creates serious economic stress.

2. Birth control is expensive. Many insurance plans don’t cover all methods; some don’t cover any method (looking at you, Catholic Church!). Annual cost of the Pill can range from a low $108 a year for generic ortho-cyclen to an astronomical $1,140 for Loestrin. The IUD, a highly effective method many plans don’t cover, costs around $1,000 for insertion.

Photo Courtesy: Feminist Online Spaces

3. Abortion is expensive. A first-trimester abortion costs around $500. After that the price climbs quickly: at twenty weeks, it’s more than $1,000. A late abortion for medical complications can cost several thousand—assuming the woman can find one. And this is just for the procedure, not for the hassles heaped on women by clinic closings, waiting periods and other restrictions—transportation, childcare, hotel bills. These burdens fall mostly on women themselves. The Hyde Amendment bars federal funding; most insurance plans do not cover it; only seventeen states fund Medicaid coverage for medically necessary abortions.

4. Childbirth is expensive. Childcare is expensive. Having a baby lowers women’s earnings dramatically, but it boosts men’s. Welfare? A dream of the past. Child support from the other parent? Good luck with that. According to the Census Bureau, “Of the $35.1 billion in child support due in 2009, 61.0 percent was reported as received, averaging $3,630 per custodial parent.” (One in six of those custodial parents is a man.)

And if all that wasn’t enough, women are charged more for the same or virtually the same products, from health insurance ($1 billion more a year!) to dry cleaning. To say nothing of the economic burdens of stalking, domestic violence, rape and the fear of rape.

It may be too late for the late-middle-aged old new left to take feminism to heart. There’s hope for Occupy, though, with its plethora of young women activists and ideological openness. In New York, Women Occupying Wall Street, the women’s caucus of OWS, is planning a Feminist General Assembly for May 17 at 6:30pm in Washington Square. I’ll be there, and will report back.

Katha Pollitt is an American feminist poet, essayist and critic living in Berlin. She writes the award-winning column, “Subject to Debate,” for The Nation magazine. This article was originally published in The Nation. Copyright ©Agence Global

Featured Photo by Marnie Joyce