Quite uncharacteristically, there was much joy at the conclusion of a medical camp in the Nandivaram Community Health Centre, in Kancheepuram, on Thursday.

Health officers usually go through camps with the mechanical precision that practice has helped cultivate. This one, though, was vastly different. It was a no-scalpel vasectomy special camp, and the rejoicing was because 24 surgeries had been performed that day.

“Twenty four! It must be a record of sorts,” says S.Rajasekharan, deputy director of Health Services, Saidapet Health Unit. “Usually, we get two or three patients.” S.Prabhavathy, Block Medical Officer at Nandivaram, further adds, “In my experience, the maximum I’ve seen is 13 cases during a vasectomy camp. Three would be the average.”

And that, in short, is the story of sterilisation in the State, in the country.

The chunk of sterilisations happens with women, a minor percentage among men. In Tamil Nadu, vasectomy, the male sterilisation procedure, has never exceeded 0.6 per cent of the total. In the months of April, May and June of 2013, it was merely 0.42 per cent of the total: 354 vasectomies out of a total of 84,861 sterilisation procedures.

“Why fewer vasectomies than tubectomies, (permanent female sterilisation procedures), are performed,” explains A.Kala, programme head, Centre of Excellence in Sterilisation, Kilpauk Medical College, here. “Real information about vasectomy has not reached the people yet. There is a lot of ignorance, and that induces fear,” she says. The biggest fear is that vasectomy leads to impotence. “Men fear it will curb their sexual performance. In our experience, women – mothers and wives – fear this equally and do not insist on the male undergoing a vasectomy,” she says. This despite the fact that the incentive for undergoing vasectomy is Rs. 1,100, whereas a woman is paid only Rs. 600.

“But all that is unfounded. The no-scalpel surgery is done through a keyhole procedure and lasts only between three and five minutes. We merely ask them to avoid riding the bicycle or motorbike for a couple of days, and restrict sexual activity with partners until we know the semen flow has been cut off for sure,” explains Dr. Kala. Clearly, this puts paid to another misconception that post-surgery, a man cannot involve himself in hard labour.

So, what was different at Nandivaram? “Since the problem is lack of awareness, that is the thing we went after. An intense Information Education Communication campaign was launched that involved all levels of health workers, local governance authorities, and panchayat leaders,” elaborates Dr. Rajasekaran.

“Working jointly with the officers from the Directorate of Family Welfare, we blitzed the community with the right information on vasectomies ahead of the camp.”

As a result, 27 men turned up voluntarily, but three were rejected because they were found unfit.

“The moral of the story is that if we sustain this level and intensity of pre-camp publicity, we may turn the tide in Tamil Nadu.

The number of men coming in for vasectomies is sure to go up, though it might never exceed the number of tubectomies,” Dr. Prabhavathi adds.