By Roli Srivastava
MUMBAI, Jan 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's first survey to count how many women have had their wombs removed found that about 3 percent had undergone the procedure, mostly uneducated, rural women, including teenagers.
More than 22,000 Indian women aged between 15 and 49 out of 700,000 surveyed had undergone a hysterectomy, government data showed on Wednesday, confirming campaigners' fears over unnecessary surgeries for profit.
Half of the women never went to school and two-thirds of surgeries were performed in the private sector, it found.
"Unlike in the West - where hysterectomy numbers spike post-menopause - in India, younger women are undergoing the procedure," said Narendra Gupta, a public health expert who campaigned for the government to conduct the survey.
He filed a case in India's highest court in 2013 to win compensation for hundreds of women who underwent the surgery unnecessarily in private hospitals seeking to claim from a national insurance scheme. The case is ongoing.
"The problem is widespread ... Most women who had undergone the procedure were seeking treatment for only minor ailments," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, referring to the testimonies he gathered for the case.
A woman cannot bear children after the removal of a uterus and the procedure is often accompanied by the removal of ovaries, which some studies have linked to early onset of osteoporosis and other serious side effects.
Although India's hysterectomy rate is much lower than in many Western countries - such as the United States where 600,000 women undergo the procedure every year - reports of unnecessary surgeries have troubled the south Asian nation for a decade.
Many women - often poor and illiterate - are conned into surgeries by quacks masquerading as doctors or hospitals seeking compensation for treatment from the state's funds for the poor.
"It is a strong message to the medical fraternity and the government to strengthen regulation of private healthcare," said S. K. Singh, a professor at Mumbai's International Institute for Population Studies, which conducted the survey.
Women are also forced to go under the knife by their families who believe periods come in the way of their work. Women are easily convinced that their uterus has no use once they have had babies, campaigners say.
The survey found that the southern state of Telangana had one of the highest hysterectomy prevalence rates.
"In Telangana, the most vulnerable and tribal women have been victimised," said Bharath Bhushan, founder of the Centre for Action Research and People's Development.
The charity was the first to find hundreds of tribal women in the state had undergone operations 12 years ago.
($1 = 63.6800 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll. Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)
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