India: Unnecessary removal of uteruses for profit

February 24, 2013


In a web article on, an Oxfam GB global campaigner describes the misleading practices of private sector doctors in parts of India, in particular the case of unnecessary womb removals from poor rural women.

In India, the private sector now accounts for 93% of the hospitals and 85% of doctors. For the vast majority of Indians, private services are too expensive and thus out of reach. Scandals of corruption, unethical practice and human rights violations in the private sector frequently break out in national newspapers. In the last few years NGOs and legal networks have attempted to investigate the practices carried out by private clinics.

An example is the recent turmoil over unnecessary womb removals in Dausa, a district in the rural interior of Rajasthan. In Dausa, thousands of women have been subjected to hysterectomies by doctors looking to make a profit at their expense. Women from the most discriminated low castes and poor economic backgrounds are being targeted because access to free government healthcare is very limited and illiteracy rates are high.

Wrongly operated

One of the women who underwent the surgery explained, “I had a constant stomach ache and they removed by uterus, but the pain did not go. Then I went to Jaipur for treatment and it was found that I was wrongly operated upon.”

A female farm labourer was told she must have a hysterectomy when she visited the clinic with stomach pains. She was charged 30,000 rupees for the operation (around $540). “I went to get medication and have a check up. Because the government hospitals are far away I went to a private clinic. They didn’t check me, they didn’t give me any medication. But they gave me an injection and performed an operation. Even though I only had a tummy ache, they took my uterus out. I still have the same stomach pain I had before. I can’t work, I can’t lift heavy things. Being a poor farmer I don’t have any money, so I had to borrow money. So far I have not even been able to pay just the interest.”

Dr Gupta, a medical expert and head of NGO Prayas who work with Oxfam in India, states in a report that most of the women he interviewed in Rajasthan should not have undergone a hysterectomy, and could have been cured with other treatments. “Subjecting women to unethical, unreasonable and unnecessary hysterectomies or caesarean sections for financial gain is a violation of human rights and most awful form of gender based violence. The mass hysterectomies by private hospitals in Dausa are a wicked act, but such malpractices are happening in other areas as well.”

Common practice

Similarly news stories and investigation reports in the Indian States of Chattisgargh and Bihar indeed indicate that unnecessary hysterectomies are common phenomena in rural areas. NGOs investigating these cases have decided to go the Supreme Court to seek justice for these women and bring the unregulated and unaccountable private providers of healthcare to account. Furthermore, Oxfam GB is calling for the Indian government to prioritise strengthening and scaling up government health care, and regulating private providers and their user fees.

Full article: Unregulated and unaccountable: how the private health care sector in India is putting women’s lives at risk, Araddhya Mehtta (Essential Services Global Campaigner for Oxfam GB)