8 Indian women die, 20 ill after sterilization

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Free Sterilizations in India Kill 8 Women

NEW DELHI (AP) - Eight women have died and 20 others were in critical condition Tuesday after undergoing sterilization surgery as part of a free government-run program to help slow India's population growth.

A total of 83 women, most of them poor villagers, had the operation Saturday in a hospital outside Bilaspur city in the central state of Chhattisgarh, according to the district magistrate, Siddharth Komal Pardeshi.

The women were sent home Saturday evening following their surgeries, but more than two dozen were later rushed in ambulances to private hospitals after falling ill. By Tuesday, eight of the women had died, Pardeshi said.

"They have all had the same symptoms," including low blood pressure, headaches, breathing problems and signs of shock, said Arvind Gupta, the director of Apollo Hospital, one of the facilities where the sick women were taken. Autopsies were being performed on those who died.

The state has suspended the three government doctors who performed the surgeries, Pardeshi said. It also will give compensation payments of about $3,300 to each of the victims' families.

India's government - long concerned with fast growth in a country whose population has reached 1.3 billion - offers free sterilization to both women and men who want to avoid the risk and cost of having a baby, though the vast majority of patients are women.

In many cases, they are offered a one-time payment for undergoing surgery of about $10-$20, or about a week's pay for a poor person in India. Hundreds of millions of Indians live in poverty.

It was not immediately clear whether the women in Bilaspur were paid for undergoing Saturday's operations.

India has the world's highest rate of sterilization among women, with about 37 percent undergoing such operations, compared with 29 percent in China, according to 2006 statistics reported by the United Nations. In 2011-12, the government said 4.6 million Indian women had been sterilized.

While India's central government stopped setting targets for sterilizing women in the 1990s, activists such as Brinda Karat of the All India Democratic Women's Association say state governments still set sterilization quotas that lead health authorities to coerce patients into surgery rather than advising them on other forms of contraception.

"These women have become victims because of the target-based approach to population control," Karat told reporters Tuesday, while demanding that the state's health minister resign.

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