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Rural India tries a new sterilization technique

The women rest on thin cotton mattresses on the schoolhouse floor, their brilliant crimson, turquoise, gold, and green skirts turning the drab classrooms into a riot of color.

Each is recovering from sterilization by a new surgical technique called laparoscopy, a sophisticated but simple method that could yet revolutionize India's plodding family planning program, officials say.

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It has taken Bombay physician V.P. Mehta only two minutes apiece to sterilize these women.After a few hours rest, they will go home with their waiting husbands.

At the end of the day, attendants dismantle the temporary operating theater they will set up again the next day at another camp.

Women have been known to swamp the one-day sterilization camps run by the Rajasthani state government in rural areas.

"It's an economical, speedy, and easy method," says Dr. Mehta. "This has caught the fancy of the people," says Rajasthan's medical and health state secretary.

Laparoscopies are popular because they take less than a day and require only a small abdominal incision, under local anesthesia. Conventional tubectomies, on the other hand, involve hospital stays of several days.

Each woman sterilized this way gets a $13 incentive payment, part from the state government and part from the central government. It's a princely sum in rural areas where farm laborers draw less than 50 cents a day.

Because doctors need specialized training for these operations and laparoscopy instruments are delicate and expensive, the method is not yet widely used.

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Indian officials, shocked by the 1981 census figures, are watching Rajasthan's laparoscopy program with special interest.

This state, on India's western borders, is one of India's poorest and fastest growing. Its population increased faster in 1971-1981 than during the previous decade; it grew by 32.36 percent compared to the national average of 24.75 percent over the 10-year period.

Last year, Rajasthan staged 660 laparoscopy camps, averaging nearly 100 operations per cam p.

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