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Judicial Probe Ordered for Botched Eye Surgery Camp

The Assam government Friday ordered a judicial probe to investigate a botched cataract surgery camp at the Guwahati Medical College in which 38 people were blinded.//

Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the enquiry would be conducted by a retired judge of the Gauhati High Court and was expected to submit the report in three months.

"We are taking the issue very seriously and hence instituted a judicial probe to fix responsibility for the tragedy," the minister told journalists here.

Some 38 people, most of them villagers, lost their vision during a free cataract operation camp organised by the Assam government last month under the National Programme for Control of Blindness.

A three-member expert committee appointed by the government to investigate the incident indicted the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology (RIO) at the Guwahati Medical College of lapses in sterilisation and autoclaving process of equipment and the linens.

"It seems non adherence of strict asepsis and sterilisation protocol may have caused this catastrophe," said the expert committee report that was made public.

The people who lost their eyesight were operated on Sep 12, 13 and 16.

"There were hundreds more who were operated in the same RIO beginning Sep 2 but not all were infected," the minister.

The 38 patients were later shifted for advanced treatment by the Assam government to the Sankara Nethralaya in Chennai.

"Four patients recovered their eyesight in Chennai," the minister said.

The Assam government has granted Rs.50,000 each to the 38 victims as a relief package.

All surgeries at the RIO have been stopped since Sep 16 with the Assam government now undertaking a massive plan to upgrade the infrastructure and other facilities at the institute.

"We are investing Rs.10 million from our state budget and another Rs.100 million is being sanctioned b y the central government to make RIO a centre of excellence. In about a month's time we hope to resume normal surgeries," Sarma said.

Meanwhile, the government has decided to make a massive administrative reshuffle at the RIO for better performance.

"We shall not allow any vested interest to sabotage the National Programme for Control of Blindness and hence some administrative measures," the minister said.

"We have a target to complete 7,000 surgeries by the year end and we hope to do it," Sarma added.


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