Patna: Poverty-stricken Prema Devi and Jamila Khatoon of Muzaffarpur district in Bihar had undergone cataract surgery in the hope of improving their vision that had become blurred. Instead, both have ended up losing vision after contracting severe infection following the surgery.
Prema and Jamila are among the 15 poor women and men, most of them elderly, whose eyes had to be removed in the past three days, following alleged negligence after cataract surgery by a private eye hospital in Muzaffarpur district.
The two women are cursing their decision to undergo free cataract surgery and worried about how they will lead their life without vision. The upper part of their face is covered with white bandages after their eyes were removed in government-run Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur.
In violation of the guidelines of the Medical Council of India, Muzaffarpur Eye Hospital, situated in the Juran Chapra area, had conducted cataract surgery on 65 people in one day (November 22, 2021). All patients, a majority of them women, underwent surgery on a single operation table without sanitisation and sterilisation of equipment in just a few hours. The surgery was done by a single doctor. These are some of the revelations made by a four-member team formed by the state health department to probe into the matter. The team was formed after it was reported that negligence by the private eye hospital had cost the eyesight of many persons, and eyes of some patients had to be removed owing to panophthalmitis after cataract surgery.
This incident has also exposed an alleged health scam run by Muzaffarpur Eye Hospital in the name of conducting “free” cataract surgeries for the poor. According to reports, the hospital was charging between Rs 3,000 to 4,000 for each surgery.
“Humne motiyabind ka operation aankh mein dhundlapan khatam karne ke liye karaya tha. Kaun janta tha ki aankh hi nikalwana padega. Ab to sab kutch andhera ho gaya.Humko antim saans tak jhelna hoga”, ( I had agreed to the surgery to get rid of the blurred vision. Did I know that I would lose my eyes instead? I will have to live with this till my death,” said Prema, who is in her mid-60s.
Jamila, another patient whose eye was removed after the botched cataract surgery, said: “I decided to go for cataract surgery because I am facing difficulties in doing my daily work. I live alone in a village in neighbouring Vaishali district, who will look after me now that doctors have removed one eye due to extreme pain and infection?”
Indira Devi, too, has been regretting her decision to force her husband Bharat Paswan to go for cataract surgery. ”I convinced him to undergo surgery for better vision but it proved costly as his eye was removed. My husband was working as a labourer to earn livelihood for the family.He was the sole bread earner. This will affect our livelihood.”.
Indira, a resident of Vaishali, said cataract was detected by an eye specialist, who advised surgery to improve vision. “As we are poor and don't have enough money to admit him in a private hospital for surgery, several people told me to approach Muzaffarpur Eye Hospital for free surgery. My husband and I went there on November 20, and after examining him, the hospital fixed November 22 for surgery. We were happy but our happiness did not last long because soon after surgery, he started having severe pain. A nurse gave some medicines and assured us that the pain will go. But it continued for days , after which we visited SKMCH, where doctors told us that eye removal was the only [email protected] she said.
Indira expressed her helplessness over no facility for cataract surgery in the government-run hospital that forced poor people like her to Muzaffarpur Eye Hospital for ‘free’ surgery
The fact is that at Muzaffarpur Sadar Hospital, there is no eye operation theatre despite two specialist eye doctors posted there. As per officials of the hospital, no cataract surgery was conducted there after 2010 due to lack of operation theatre and high-tech equipment.
Even an eye bank set up in SKMCH last year has not started functioning so far due to manpower shortage.
Meanwhile, former chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Rabri Devi in the Assembly demanded the resignation of Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey for “blinding so many poor people”. She also demanded compensation of Rs 25 lakh to the victims.
According to Muzaffarpur ‘s civil surgeon Dr Vinay Kumar Sharma, six patients' eyes were removed on Tuesday and nine patients’ eyes were removed on Wednesday due to severe infection after cataract surgery.
He said he had sought the list of all patients operated upon at the eye hospital on November 22. In view of reports of complaints of loss of eyesight ,pain and discomfort ,the health department will contact each of these patients to know their exact condition .
After the Opposition raised the issue in the ongoing Winter session of Bihar Assembly, the health department has directed that an FIR be lodged against Muzaffarpur Eye Hospital and the doctor who conducted cataract surgery.
However, a health expert said several private eye hospitals across Bihar organise special cataract surgery camps during winter (November to February). He alleged that on paper they say they do it for free, but they charge Rs 1,000 to 4,000 per person. As free cataract surgery camps mainly attract poor and illiterate people, these hospitals hardly pay proper attention to sanitisation of the operation theatre and equipment sterilisation that causes infection, he alleged.
"But the main motive behind cataract surgery camps is to get more and more funds from the government scheme under the blindness control programme and charity funds and other funds from international organisations. This is a part of a big racket as several people lose eyesight after cataract surgery every year. It is hardly reported", he alleged.
According to the latest NITI Aayog Multidimensional Poverty Index, about 51.9 % of the state's population is poor. Based on the National Family Health Family Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4) data and preliminary findings of the NFHS-5, the index showed that Bihar has the highest number of malnourished people.