Botched cataract surgery blinds 14 in India

An eye lens which is normally clean becomes yellowish due to cataract.
An eye lens which is normally clean becomes yellowish due to cataract. PHOTO: DR AU EONG KAH GUAN

MUMBAI (AFP) - At least 14 people in western India have lost sight in one eye after botched cataract surgeries, doctors and officials said on Thursday (Nov 5), the latest example of poor medical care in the country.

The authorities in the state of Maharashtra blamed hospital staff for failing to sterilise equipment properly and causing the blindness, following what is generally considered to be a low-risk operation.

"Sheer negligence was shown by doctors and the civil surgeons," Maharashtra Health Minister Deepak Sawant told AFP.

"We have suspended three doctors and some supporting staff. We have launched a high-level inquiry and if they are found guilty they will be removed from the health services," he added.

Twenty-three patients were affected by the bungled operations, which took place over a couple of weeks at a district hospital in Washim, around 450km east of India's commercial capital Mumbai.

After complaining of pain and loss of vision, they were then taken to Mumbai on Oct 31 where eye specialists were able to fully restore the sight of four patients.

"We operated on all of them and four have had their sight restored. But up until now, 14 have lost their vision in one eye. For the other five, we are trying," the dean of J.J. Hospital, T.P. Lahane, told AFP.

Lahane, a cataract expert, said the patients had all suffered from a highly infectious strain of bacteria called "pseudomonas".

The case raises fresh concerns about hygiene standards in India's severely stretched health-care services.

It comes after around 20 people were blinded by free cataract surgeries in northern Punjab state in December last year.

That incident came just weeks after the deaths of 13 women following mass sterilisation surgeries at a health camp in central India.