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Another healthcare tragedy

Negligence in Indian healthcare is again under a spotlight, with 15 persons losing their eyesight in Punjab after cataract surgery at a free camp organised by a non-government body.

Initial reports suggest infected equipment was used at this camp, in Amritsar. The entity responsible, Gurunanak Charitable Trust, did not take permission from the state authorities to organise the free cataract surgery camp, government surgeon Rajiv Bhalla said from Amritsar.

This is the second major mishap report of this kind within two months. Last month, at least 12 women lost their lives at a sterilisation camp in Chhattisgarh.

After the Punjab fiasco, the doctors resposible and the Trust have been booked on criminal charges. The government is monitoring 40 others who went for eye surgery in other districts.

Around 15 million in India are without eyesight, according to estimates.

“This is a serious lapse on the part of the organisers, that they did not even seek permission to conduct such a camp. A case has been booked and the government is expected to take stern action against those involved in the fiasco,” Bhalla said over the phone.

In the Chhattisgarh tragedy, it appears contaminated medicine from a small company caused the deaths.

India ranks low on public health care spending, compared to other emerging countries. It is also poor in terms of mortality among children. On Friday, Union health minister J P Nadda told the Lok Sabha that India had one of the highest number of deaths in the world of children under five years, with ailments such as pneumonia and diarrhea.

A number of major domestic drug companies have been under the scanner of global regulators, especially from the US, for inferior quality standards and manufacturing practices.

America is the biggest drug market in the world and Indian generic companies make at least half of their revenues from selling medicines in the US. The US drug regulator, the Food & Drug Administration, has been tightening its vigil over the manufacturing practices in Indian plants. The Drugs Controller General of India had earlier told this newspaper that if US standards were to be followed here, almost all drug makers would have to close.

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