The alleged sterilization charges against Dr. Seigu Shihabdeen Mohamed Shafi from the Teaching Hospital, Kurunegala have become the main topic in the country at present. It has created a huge controversy which is taking new turns and spreading its flames in the country.
His wife Dr. M.N.F. Imara, holding an MBBS degree from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, is working in the Nephrology Unit at the Teaching Hospital in Kurunegala. Their three children are attending popular national schools in Kurunegala.
In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Dr. Imara said that everything that happened before and after the arrest of her husband has made her to believe that proceedings have been well-planned to victimize Dr. Shafi. “But, I cannot imagine the secrecy behind all these manipulations,” she said.
Dr. Shafi graduated from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura as an MBBS Doctor in 2003. Since then, he has served the Government Health sector for more than 14 years in the following capacities: Internship at Teaching Hospital Kurunegala – 12/8/2004 to 12/8/2005, Released House Officer of Teaching Hospital Kurunegala 13/08/2005 to 11/04/2006, Medical Officer, District Hospital – Galewela -12/4/2006 to 18/4/2007, Senior House Officer of Gynaecology & Obstetrics at Teaching Hospital Kurunegala – 20/07/2007 to 25/02/2013 and as the Medical Officer of Gynecology & Obstetrics Base Hospital, Dambulla – 26/2/2013 to 26/2/2017
He resigned from the Government sector in July, 2015 to contest the General Elections in 2015. He contested as a UNP candidate and polled nearly 54,000 votes. However, he could not enter parliament, as the UNP secured only 7 places, and he was 8th in the list.
Then, he started serving the Government sector medical profession on August 2016 as a Medical Doctor, attached to Base Hospital, Dambulla which had also come into question. On February 12, 2017, he was transferred back to the Teaching Hospital, Kurunegala as a Senior House Officer, Gynaecology & Obstetrics where he continued to work until he was taken in to custody on May 24 on charges of acquiring a large number of assets through suspicious means.
He is just an MBBS doctor, and not a Consultant VOG. His post is “Senior House Officer (SHO)” who is a person working under the Consultant and carrying out surgeries, under the supervision of a Consultant. Furthermore, a Cesarean section in an Operation Theatre cannot be performed only by a doctor. There are a group of people numbering six in an operating theatre. This group includes the Senior House Officer (SHO), the House Officer (HO), the Anesthetist and 2-3 members of nursing staff, all assisting in the surgery so that if there is something unusual happening, the others could notice.
he has worked under many VOGs. At the time of his arrest, he was working under Consultant VOG, Dr. Pathinisekara.
After the Easter bomb attack on April 21, under emergency regulations, on the same day, the Police visited the residence of Dr. Shafi, to inquire into whether they (Shafis) had been entertaining any strange visitors. Again, on April 30, the Police visited to check on the house adjoining theirs, which Dr. Shafi had rented out to a group of workers employed in a textile shop in the town. During that time, they had questioned Dr. Shafi’s wife Dr. Imara as well.
Then on May 6, the Police and a SOCO (Scene of Crime) unit came to check the medical lab, Gold Med Diagnostics and Laboratories at Colombo Road, Kurunegala which was owned by the father-in-law of Dr.Shafi as a partner with police sniffer dogs and interrogated Dr. Shafi again for more than 3 hours, regarding his assets and income.
Subsequently, there was a paper article in the ‘Divaina’ newspaper on May 23, regarding sterilization, during cesarean sections by a ‘Tawhid Jamaath doctor’. This was followed by a Facebook post, uploaded by Dr. Channa Jayasumana of Rajarata University, in relation to the article in the said newspaper on the same day. He tried to relate the issue in the newspaper, to Dr. Shafi using some photos and articles taken from his Facebook profile. Within one night, this post was shared more than 500 times, among various groups.
“When I looked into comments of this post, they have dragged some pictures of my kids and made threats to my husband, me and my kids,” Dr. Imara said.
“On May 24, we were planning to complain to the police regarding the security of my family and prepared the documents. We had even drafted a complaint. But unfortunately, on the same day they arrested my husband suspecting foul play with regard to acquiring enormous wealth within a short time. This was done under the guise of emergency law,” she claimed.
The checking continued for 2 – 2 ½ hours and then the police obtained a statement from the wife, regarding checking of the house and what she had to say regarding her husband. She said that they had taken some documents such as passports, land deeds, bank passbooks as well as the CPU, tab and laptop computers. According to her they hadn’t given Dr. Shafi’s wife a check list of the items.
After arresting a victim, he or she has to be produced before the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) on duty. When invited by the Police, the JMO has to come. But in the case of Dr. Shafi, the police had not informed the JMO on call, although there were two on-call JMOs on May 24 night. Instead another JMO (who was not on call) was asked to come by the
Director of the Kurunegala Hospital.
The allegation of forceful sterilization led to a big issue in the hospital and society. Due to personal harassments through Facebook Dr. Imara had to leave the residence. “I am scared to report for duty. My children are undergoing mental trauma, as they are unable to attend school, due to the threatening situation,” she said. On May 28, a protest was organised in front of the hospital, in Kurunegala with the participation of many Buddhist monks. At the same time, there was another protest at Gattuwana junction (closer to the residence of Dr. Shafi) during which protesters bedecked the junction with black flags and banners while carrying slogans against Dr. Shafi.
Dr. Imara said that she was under severe mental stress and unable to continue with her usual activities, including looking after her own children. She strongly feels that her husband was unlawfully arrested and his rights were denied. She also said that she feels so helpless in this situation because she has to face this challenge alone. She said that she feels nervous because of the entire episode. She believes that her husband has been trapped. Therefore, she is pleading with the authorities to ensure that justice is meted out to her husband and that he is released at the earliest. “I would also like to seek intervention of the authorities to provide security for me to attend to my work and for my children to attend school,” she said.
Two women who had come to the Kurunegala Hospital to make a complaint against Dr. Shafi spoke to the Daily Mirror. One of them is a 30 year old Midwife working in the Dehiwala area. She had a baby two years ago and she claimed her cesarean operation was handled by Dr. Shafi at the Kurunegela Hospital. Now, she is afraid that she was also ‘sterilized’ by Dr. Shafi.
“My baby was born in 2017 after 33 weeks of pregnancy. There were a few other doctors and nurses too inside the theatre at the time of delivery. I knew Dr. Shafi even before the C-section surgery as I had been trained in the hospital. I saw on television about this sterilization case and women coming up to complain against the doctor. I haven’t still planned to have a baby, but I expect to do so in the future. That is why I wanted to make sure I am in sound health to conceive,” one woman said. Another mother of one, who had been diagnosed with diabetes two years after the C-Section delivery of her first baby, also lodged a complaint at the Kurunegala Hospital. She believes that the ‘sterilization’ had been the cause of her diabetes and also a constant back pain she suffers from.
“Doctors advised to go for a C-section surgery as I have high pressure. My baby was born in 2010. Since then, I had not been able to conceive. Not only that, I also now have a constant back pain and am being treated for diabetes,” she said.
The Daily Mirror also met the Director of the Kurunegala Hospital Dr. Sarath Weerabandara. He said that the investigations initiated regarding the sterilization charges against Dr. Shafi are a relief to the women who had undergone C-section surgeries at the hands of Dr. Shafi and still have not been able to conceive after the surgery. He stated that he was told by a number of women that after lodging their complaints at the hospital, they were no longer pressurised by their husbands and mothers-in-law.
According to Dr. Weerabandara, an Anesthetist had been telling those in the hospital that Dr. Shafi had been “sterilizing women” during operations in the year 2017. Dr. Shafi’s wife said that her husband had written to the then Director of the hospital requesting for an inquiry to be carried out to check on the rumours circulating against him at that time. However, there has been no response to the request to date, Shafi’s wife Imara said.
When the Daily Mirror inquired into the procedure of investigations regarding the complaints by the women, Weerabandara said that they hope to follow a statistical approach in which they will compare the number of complaints received against Dr. Shafi with the number of complaints received against other doctors in the Kurunegala Hospital.
Meanwhile, members of Dr. Shafi’s family said that they suspect a link between the DIG Kithsiri Jayalath, whose wife is also a doctor serving the Kurunegala Hospital in the capacity of an associate of the Director of the Hospital Weerabandara.
“People should focus on facts”- Prof. Hemantha
Prof. Hemantha Senanayake, Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Former President of the Sri Lanka College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Chairperson of the Ethics Review Committee, University of Colombo speaking to the Daily Mirror said that this incident if not investigated into properly and if subject to a delay could make a huge negative impact on Sri Lanka’s achievements in maternal care and health which have been globally admired.
“99% of births happen in hospitals in Sri Lanka. At this rate, people would be afraid to have their babies delivered in hospitals. People should focus on facts that are verified, not on their emotions and on rumours. He added that the Fallopian tubes are not usually seen at cesarean section, unless it is manipulated into the wound by inserting the hand into the abdomen. He emphasised that an impartial, speedy and transparent investigation should reveal the facts, enabling the necessary actions regarding the case.