Punjab eye surgery botch-up points to lack of vision

  • Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 05, 2014 20:26 IST

Sixteen people were blinded from severe infection after undergoing cataract surgeries at a free camp in Ghuman village in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district.

They were among 62 people, almost all over 65 years, who got their cataracts removed at a charitable camp on November 4.

The use of contaminated equipment is suspected to be the cause of these avoidable blindings, which once again bring focus on medical negligence and poor infection control.


A patient who lost her eyesight after undergoing surgery in the eye camp. (Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)

There are 45 million blind persons in the world, of which 12 millions live in India. In India, 80-90% of the blindness is curable or preventable.

Globally, and in India, cataract is the leading cause of blindness. According to the World Health Organisation, cataract is the leading cause of blindness (62.6%) followed by uncorrected refractive errors (19.7%); corneal blindness (0.90%), glaucoma (5.8%), among others.

The cataract tragedy comes close in the heels of 13 women dying after getting sterilized at a camp at a charitable hospital in Chhattisgarh.

Though the administration blamed the deaths on the antibiotics prescribed, which were found to be laced with rat poison, several rules were flouted. For one, 83 surgeries were done within 5 hours in extremely unsanitary conditions.

In Punjab, a criminal investigation was filed against the surgeons and the NGO Guru Nanak Foundation for setting up the camp without permission from the district administration.

Under the National Programme to Control Blindness, camps can be set up by NGOs only in partnership with District Blindness Control Society with consent from the district commissioner and the chief medical officer is a must. In Punjab, the district authorities were not informed.


The patients have now been admitted in Dr Ram Lal Eye and ENT Hospital at Majitha Road in Amritsar. (Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)

Botching up a simple surgery such as cataract, which is a daycare surgery with an infection rate of 0.03% to 0.1% in India, is extremely rare.

“Even in cases of infection, injecting antibiotics in the eye’s vitreous cavity located behind the lens and in front of the retina is all that’s needed to control it,” said one of India’s foremost experts on cataract, Dr Jeevan S. Titliyal, a professor at R P Centre of Ophthalmic Sciences at All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Eye infection is painful and very visible, with patients experiencing throbbing pain, watering, decrease is vision, swelling and redness.

“A follow-up is done the next day and patients are told to report any eye-related problem over the next two months,” said Dr Titliyal. “A follow-up two to four weeks after the surgery is a must.”

No follow-ups were done and the Amritsar district administration came to know about the shocking incident on Wednesday when the patients were brought to deputy commissioner Ravi Bhagat by members of the Kisan Sangharash Samiti.

Bhagat referred the patients to the Government Medical College and Hospital in Amritsar, where tests by eye specialists revealed that all 15 had lost their vision due to a severe post-operation infection.

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