The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dispur gets 15 days to pay eye patients

Guwahati, Oct. 22: A botched surgery camp and 38 partially blinded patients later, the Assam government is caught in the eye of a storm that is yet to blow over. Cataract patients, who lost an eye each following post-operative infection, today set a 15-day deadline for Dispur to pay adequate compensation and fix responsibility for the fiasco.

Patients and their kin assembled in front of the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology at Gauhati Medical College Hospital today, threatening to move Gauhati High Court if the Tarun Gogoi government does not concede to their demands within a fortnight.

Relatives of the patients also floated a platform, the Dristihin Aikyata Samiti. The president of the newly formed group, Anowar Hussain, told The Telegraph that the eye institute had virtually abandoned the infected patients after sending them to Sankara Nethralaya in Chennai.

“After returning from Chennai, my father Mushahak Ali wanted to consult doctors at the institute. But the RIO refused to oblige. More alarmingly, a couple of patients are facing problems in their second eye as well,” Hussain said.

Ophthalmologist L.C. Dutta, who headed the expert committee, which probed the botched surgeries, said the institute should check on patients who have complained of problems in the other eye. “Cataract in the other eye is inevitable, but it is not because of the infection. The RIO should call the infected patients for an immediate check-up,” Dutta said.

The patients, however, are sceptical. “We are terrified of going back to a government institution for another operation and run the risk of going completely blind. But we cannot afford treatment at private hospitals either,” Atab Ali, a patient from Darrang, said.

Altogether 38 patients operated upon at a mega cataract camp organised by the institute last month developed post-operative infection and subsequently lost vision in one of their eyes. The government’s last-ditch attempt at salvaging the situation by sending the patients to Chennai for super-speciality treatment also came a cropper.

Dispur’s claim that four patients had regained vision was also dismissed as baseless. “The government is claiming that my mother Satya Debi regained her vision. But this is not true. The Chennai doctors refused to take out her eyeball as the infection was too severe,” Satyen Sarma, a resident of Barpeta said.

Hussain alleged that though health and family welfare minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced Rs 50,000 as relief money for the patients, no government official had officially intimated them.

“We want proper compensation as many patients lost their livelihood because of the tragedy. We also want punishment for the guilty,” he said.

Hussain said the Dristihin Aikyata Samiti would submit a memorandum to the health department on Thursday.

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