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Indian women pushed to have wombs removed

Updated Wednesday, February 6th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3

Thousands of Indian women are having their wombs removed in operations that campaigners say are unnecessary and only performed to make money for unscrupulous private doctors.

Sunita is uncertain of her exact age but thinks she's about 25 years old. I met her in a small village in Rajasthan, north-west India, surrounded by chewing cattle and birdsong. She was covered in jewellery, from a nose-stud and rings to bangles which jangled when she gestured with her hand.

Her face hardens when she tells me about her operation.

"I went to the clinic because I had heavy bleeding during menstruation," she says.

"The doctor did an ultrasound and said I might develop cancer. He rushed me into having a hysterectomy that same day."

Sunita says she was reluctant to have the operation straightaway and wanted to discuss it with her husband first. She says the doctor said the operation was urgent and sent her for surgery just hours later.

More than two years have passed since that day but Sunita says she still feels too weak to work or look after her children.

When other local women crowded round, I asked how many of them had undergone hysterectomies. More than half raised their hands at once. Village leaders said about 90% of the village women have had the operation, including many in their 20s and 30s.

The doctors generally charge around $200 for the operation, which often means the families have to sell cattle and other assets to raise the money.

I tracked down the small private clinic where Sunita and some of the other women in the village said they had been advised to have hysterectomies, after suffering from symptoms such as heavy periods and period pain, bladder infections and backache.

The owner, a doctor, was in the middle of an ultrasound scan when I arrived. When I put the women's allegations to him, he shook his head and smiled. They weren't telling the truth, he said. Unlike others in the area, his clinic was genuine and ethical.

When I asked him how he could diagnose a pre-cancerous or cancerous growth on the basis of an ultrasound scan, he admitted that he sometimes didn't do biopsies before removing the uterus, only afterwards.

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