According to a recent investigation, doctors in rural areas of India may be performing unnecessary hysterectomies (the surgical removal of the uterus) on women in an attempt to make additional money. While it is difficult to obtain exact statistics regarding hysterectomies in rural Indian villages, local reports and anecdotal information suggest that private doctors are frightening a number of women into receiving the procedure.
One woman, whose experience is similar to others who have been interviewed, recalls going to a private doctor initially for heavy bleeding during menstruation. After performing a single ultrasound, the doctor told her that she might develop cancer in the future, and needed to undergo surgery immediately. Although she wanted to wait and discuss the possible surgery with her family, the doctor pressured her into receiving the procedure a few hours later. Independent doctors have come to the consensus that a single ultrasound cannot justify a hysterectomy, and that biopsies and other tests are better indicators of cancer or pre-cancer. However, a doctor at the clinic where the woman received the operation admitted that he doesn’t always schedule biopsies prior to performing hysterectomies, so if the uterus or biopsy material is discarded afterwards, there is no way to prove whether the procedures were necessary or not.
Unfortunately, the case highlighted above is not unique in India. There are reports of large numbers of women receiving hysterectomies in some Indian states, and in one village it’s reported that around 90% of women have received a hysterectomy. As these procedures can be costly, women often have to sell some of their own assets to pay for them. Hysterectomies also lead to additional health risks inherent to any surgical procedures.
There are organizations currently working to make changes that will improve the health of women in rural India. Since health clinics are necessary and helpful, campaigners are focusing on improving oversight and regulation of the doctors working in these clinics to ensure that women are not tricked or scared into unnecessary procedures. There has been legislation passed in India to regulate private health care, but it is still in the process of implementation, and is not yet effective. For now, it’s important to raise awareness about this issue, and continue to work to improve women’s health everywhere.