Bishop champions poor blinded by botched eye operation

Callous treatment by government led to tragedy for 40 people undergoing free cataract removal.

Bhopal (UCAN): A Catholic bishop in central India's Madhya Pradesh state has charged local authorities with callousness toward the poor after 40 people lost their eyesight undergoing a government-sponsored free cataract removal program.

"I personally feel the poor are not taken seriously. They are most often treated like a commodity and not given due respect," Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore told ucanews.com.

"It seems that the government machinery seldom recognizes human dignity and this kind of unfortunate incident takes place," he said.

"It is unfortunate that the government with its huge resources at disposal was not able to protect the eyes of poor people," he added.

The state with the help of a nongovernmental organization organized the medical program in the tribal district of Barwani, one of the poorest regions in the state between Nov. 16- 24.

Of the 86 people operated on to remove cataracts, 60 developed serious fungal infections with at least 40 reportedly losing their eyesight.

Bishop Thottumarickal said the church also organizes free cataract operation programs for the poor "with a hundred percent success rate, despite its limited resources."

A reasonably good private hospital in Indore will charge about US$500 for a cataract operation, which is not affordable to poor people even with their life savings. That is why they go for state-sponsored surgeries, he said.

But now they are aware of "the callous treatment they get in such medical camps and might prefer to live with the cataracts," the bishop said.

The state government announced Dec. 8 that it would pay a lifelong monthly pension of 5,000 rupees (US$75) to each of the affected people. It also declared an additional grant of US$3,000 to those undergoing treatment for eye infections in private hospitals.

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has temporarily banned such medical camps and ordered a special audit of all operating theaters in government hospitals after it was alleged that an operating theater was the source of the infections that led to the 40 losing their sight.

Bishop Thottumarickal noted that it was not the first such case. Ten people lost their vision after operations in Indore in 2012.

According to media reports, more than 50 people have lost they eyesight after cataract surgery in the state in less than five years.

Source: UCAN

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