While in India during the summer of 1998, Anuradha Saha, a 36-year-old child psychologist, contracted toxic epidermal necrolysis but was incorrectly diagnosed and given an overdose of steroids that caused her death. Today, a full 15 years later, India's Supreme Court made steps to rectify this wrong by awarding a record compensation payment of Rs. 5.96 crore (almost a million dollars) for medical negligence to her husband.
Ohio resident Kunal Saha, an HIV/AIDS specialist of Indian origin, said the ruling set vital precedents and would help save lives. After being awarded a far smaller payout by a consumer dispute commission in 2011, Saha appealed to the Supreme Court seeking greater compensation, leading to today’s judgment. He noted the large compensation sum would deter both doctors and hospitals from acting with negligence in the future.
"It's closure of a personal battle for justice for my wife," Saha told AFP by phone. "The purpose was served,” Saha told Agence France-Presse. “The medical community in India will sit up and the courts will have to think."
Toxic epidermal necrolysis is a skin disorder that appears as a blistering and peeling of the skin. This life-threatening disorder can be caused by a drug reaction. According to Hindustan Times, Saha’s wife developed a rash and consulted Dr. Sukumar Mukherjee, who simply prescribed rest. When rashes reappeared, Mukherjee prescribed Depo-Medrol injection 80 mg twice daily, an error which was later faulted by experts at court. Rapidly, her condition deteriorated and she was admitted to AMRI, a private hospital in Kolkata, before being transferred to the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai, where she died.
Following her death, Saha filed cases against three doctors and the AMRI hospital. Later, he formed People for Better Treatment (PBT), a non-governmental organization that campaigns for patient rights in India. In 2007, according to AFP, Saha and PBT described how blood testing kits, financed by the World Bank yet procured illegally, led to the use of HIV-contaminated blood in Indian hospitals.
According to Patients Beyond Borders, India serves more than 250,000 international patients who travel there for cheap surgery and other medical and cosmetic procedures annually. Considered to be one of the top medical tourism sites in the world, heart care has become a specialty and, according to AFP, malpractice may be rampant. A 2011 KPMG report, quoted in Business Standard, reveals the cost advantage in medical tourism to be substantial: in the U.S., a coronary artery bypass surgery costs $70,000-133,000 but just $7,000 in India.
Before Saha’s case, Hindustan Times reported, the record compensation ordered by the Supreme Court amounted to Rs. 1 crore — not even a fifth of what Saha earned — paid to Prashant Dhananka. The Bangalore-based software engineer was 21 years old in 1990, when he visited Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad for a routine chest biopsy. He came out paralyzed from the waist down.
"I understand that doctors can't stop all deaths — I'm a doctor myself — but you open up the newspaper every day and read about horrific cases, negligent cases," Saha told AFP. “What you don't see is a doctor being punished."