Health officials on a mission to check illegal use of scanning machines under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and prevention of misuse) Act 1994

Is there a potential link between the high number of scanning machines in the private medical institutions, many of them allegedly without proper records, and the dipping child sex ratio in Kerala?

Since the health officials don’t want to misread the situation, they have been on a mission to check if there are any illegal use of scanning machines under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and prevention of misuse) Act 1994. And the warning shot ahead of check at hospitals and diagnostic centres was good enough as the inspection team sent by the Health advisory committee has registered only two cases, both in Ernakulam, out of the 1,000 inspections carried out across the State during the past two months.

What’s soothing is that the two cases in the district come after nearly 300 inspections. Other districts are yet to take much action.

The State Health authorities had a relook at the PNDT Act only in 2013 when a detailed analysis of the 2011 Census highlighted the decline in the child sex ratio. “It is not an alarming situation where the average sex ratio is 959 at birth,” said Dr. Sreedhar, additional director (Family Welfare).

Considering the dismal child sex ratio nationally, which has gone down from 927 in 2001 to 914 in 2011, the State figures may not be alarming. However, the fall in child sex ratio in two decades from 976 in 1991 to 959 in 2011, has got the public health experts and academics sit up and analyse the cause of decline.

During the inspections, the health authorities found that seven scanning machines in the district did not have licences. But five of the centres were quick enough to comply with the formalities. The panel had inspected 240 scanning centres in the district, visiting a centre more than once.

During the first round of inspection, the focus was on finding out whether the scanning machines were registered and papers were in place. In the subsequent visits to the centres, data would be collected on whether the documentation is in order. There are a number of forms to be filled out and documented when a scanning machine is operated. Since there had been little checking, it is likely that many hospitals had not documented all the procedures in the right manner.

“We go by the Act to see whether rules are being complied with. Only the first stage of checking has begun,” said N. Sreedhar.

“It is under presumption that we go from this point that documentation is incomplete because of violations of Act,” said Dr. Sreedhar. However, no sting or decoy operations have been done so far to know whether any sex determination is actually taking place.

He said PNDT Act violations could be happening when there were so many machines. “But we need to probe. We have been conducting training for our personnel and also plan to sensitise the judiciary about it so that when such cases come up, they are dealt with all the seriousness they deserve,” he said

Experts who studied the sex ratio in places like Palakkad where there had been a steady decline in the child sex ratio for over two decades pointed towards the need for better public health probity on the issue. In Thrissur, the sex ratio had gone down by over ten points in a decade from 958 to 948, Idukki by 11 points (969 to 959), Wayanad by six points, Kannur by seven points.

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