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Blame on Dispur for botched eye camp

Guwahati, Oct. 9: The official inquiry into the botched cataract surgery camp that led to 34 patients losing one eye each has revealed that Dispur had pre-ssured the under-equipped Regional Institute of Ophthalmology to meet an unrealistic target of 50-odd operations each day.

The three-member inquiry committee, constituted by the government under pressure from various quarters, said Dispur erred in setting a target of about 5,000 cataract operations in two months without first equipping the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology at Gauhati Medical College Hospital with the requisite infrastructure.

“Before the eye camp, the institute used to conduct only about 20 cataract operations daily. Suddenly, the load went up. Even though doctors at the institute successfully performed over 450 surgeries, infection set in after a week. This exposed the institute’s inability to sustain such a camp for long,” said an official who co-ordinated with the probe panel.

Work on a state-of-the-art operation theatre at the ophthalmology institute was in progress — it still isn’t complete — when the government decided to start the eye camp. A few days earlier, the Union health ministry had pulled up Dispur for its failure to meet the target of cataract operations.

Only 1,238 cataract operations were done in government hospitals in 2005-06, as against the target of 45,000.

The inquiry committee discovered that the ophthalmology institute at the GMCH ignored sterilisation norms while conducting cataract surgeries at a feverish pace to meet the target set by Dispur. “Ventilation in the operation theatre was not properly sealed. Autoclaving was not done properly either,” the official said, quoting from the panel’s report.

When the air-conditioning system at the operation theatre malfunctioned on September 13, the door was kept open. This supposedly resulted in contamination of air and, consequently, eye infection set in.

Since there is no online water sterilisation facility at the ophthalmology institute, the inquiry committee identified water contamination as another possible cause of infection.

The panel quizzed several doctors of the ophthalmology institute, including director C.K. Baruah, during the course of its inquiry.

The official said the draft report contained several recommendations to streamline the institute and ensure the safety of patients. “It has suggested ways to win back the people’s faith.”

Health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma today said the government would “get to the bottom” and initiate action after receiving the report of the inquiry committee tomorrow.

“What happened is unfortunate but since I am not a doctor, I will go by the committee’s report. But I assure you of action against the guilty, if any, and other measures suggested by the committee to improve the ophthalmology institute,” he told the media.

Brushing aside demands for his resignation, Sarma said he would transform the institute within the next four years with the Rs 11 crore sanctioned by Delhi. “To regain the confidence of the masses, I will have one of my relatives operated upon in the same institute. One lakh people need cataract surgery every year and the ophthalmology institute and the civil hospitals are the only places the economically disadvantaged can go to.”

The government had sent 36 cataract patients to Chennai in batches, but doctors at Sankara Nethralaya said that 34 of them did not stand a chance of recovering vision because of the delay.

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