NEW DELHI: Several days a week, Dr S V Kameshwari, a gynaecologist in Hyderabad, along with husband Dr Surya Prakash Vinjamuri, heads to villages in Yadadri-Bhuvanagiri district in Telangana to “save” wombs — the most significant, yet undermined organ that women have.The doctor couple is part of the unique ‘Save Uterus’ initiative of the state government to sensitise women about the importance of womb, an organ that is pivotal to the overall well-being of women.To save rural women from falling prey to the greed of unscrupulous doctors, the duo makes them aware about the organ’s importance and the medical conditions that necessitate hysterectomy, or womb removal surgery.
“Years ago, I was visiting an industrial set-up where I first came across hundreds of menopausal women as young as 20-21 who were battling health issues as their bodies were not making the required female hormones,” says Dr Kameshwari.On probing, the duo—who have been into social work for years— found out that India in general, and Andhra Pradesh-Telangana in particular, reported an alarmingly high number of hysterectomies, as per the District Level Health Survey-3. Though the national level survey was done as far back as 2007, it’s the last government data released in public domain.
Sample this: In the UK, less than 200 in one lakh women undergo hysterectomy while in the US the number is 540, according to the World Health Organisation. In India, about 12,000 per lakh women undergo hysterectomy, mostly unnecessary and unethical. In some districts of Andhra and Telangana, the figure is as high as 15,000-18,000. The reason, Dr Vinjamuri, 53, says, is “money. “A hysterectomy can fetch anywhere between `50,000 and `1.5 lakh, depending on the facilities doctors offer. Treating a routine gynaecological problem with pills wouldn’t earn them a fraction of that.”
Dr Kameshwari says it’s heartbreaking to listen to the stories of women on how hysterectomy was performed on them for simple complaints like abdominal pain or white discharge.“No treatment is available for the medical problems these women now face. The number of such women is as high as 10 per cent in many districts. We just listen to their complaints and offer whatever help we can,” says the 46-years old gynaecologist. “In every village we go to, the routine question we ask is, ‘how many women don’t have a uterus?’, and the hands that go up in response send a chill down my spine.
The women, most of them uneducated and unaware, go to private clinics complaining of minor gynaecological issues and are prescribed hysterectomy as the only way out.Dr Kameshwari recalls a case of a 21-year old woman who, after being forced to abort her female foetus, also had to undergo hysterectomy. Due to the resulting complications, she bleeds from her urethra every month, which causes her excruciating pain.
“We can hardly do anything about cases like her. But we educate those who have not undergone the scalpel yet,” she says. The couple tells these women that only four kinds of cases—severe post-partum haemorrhage, massive fibroids, prolapsed uterus and cervical cancer—necessitate womb removal.“We are glad the Telangana government has understood the hazards of this malpractice and hope that other governments, too, take similar steps,” Dr Vinjamuri says. The couple hopes to entirely cover Yadadri-Bhuvnagiri by the year-end after which the pilot project will be replicated in other districts of the state.