Lab tests have confirmed that tablets linked to the deaths of more than a dozen women who underwent sterilisation surgery at a government-run camp in Chhattisgarh contained a chemical compound commonly used in rat poison, official sources said on Thursday.
Hindustan Times was the first to report that preliminary Bilaspur Science College tests of the antibiotic ciprocin tablets – handed out at the camp held about 10 days ago -- indicated they were contaminated with zinc phosphide, a chemical used in rat poison.
Officials said fresh reports of three laboratories had detected traces of zinc phosphide in the tablets given to the women at the Bilaspur camp. The reports will be submitted to the high court and a judicial commission probing the deaths.
"It was the case of some suspected poison in the prescribed antibiotic tablets, so the samples were sent to different labs for testing ... The lab reports corroborated the presence of zinc phosphide," a senior official, who did not want to be identified, told Hindustan Times.
Authorities seized over 4.4 million tablets manufactured by Raipur-based Mahawar Pharmaceuticals in raids across the state and sent samples to five laboratories in Delhi, Kolkata, Dehradun and Nagpur.
Doctors in Bilaspur said the symptoms shown by the women who fell ill after the operations resembled the body’s reaction to zinc phosphide. The women complained of nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain after the surgery.
Thirteen women died of cardiac arrest, kidney failure and respiratory breakdown after the sterilisation surgery in an abandoned hospital where the operation theatre had not been used for months.
The state’s principal secretary for health, Dr Alok Shukla, said the government had received reports from three labs, but did not give details.
“Out of the five, we have received reports from three laboratories of Delhi, Nagpur and Dehrahun. We have handed over the lab reports to the Bilaspur district superintendent of police for further investigation,” Shukla told Hindustan Times.
The state government has ordered a probe into the deaths. Government doctors went on mass leave on Thursday in support of the sacked surgeon, RK Gupta, who operated on 83 women in just five hours.
Mahawar’s managing director, Ramesh Mahawar, and his son Sumit were produced before a local court on Wednesday and sent to judicial custody until December 2. Mahawar has denied any wrongdoing.