Challenges Faced by Girls in Accessing Health Care in India
January 23, 2024 | Contributed by Preeti Kumar
Yes, it is true. Many girls continue to face challenges in accessing healthcare in our country. In times where girls are defying barriers and shining through different platforms in the country there still is a large percentage of girls that continue to face challenges in accessing medical care. This gains more prominence in case of specialised medical care. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, on “Excessive Gender Discrimination in healthcare Services for Women in India” younger women those below the age of 30 and older women, those above the age of 60, and those living farthest away from the hospital are likely to miss out on medical care the most.
Every girl deserves the right to access healthcare services
While India has made significant progress in improving access to healthcare for girls and women particularly in the areas of reproductive and sexual health, there are still glaring gaps when it comes to critical medical issues such as congenital heart defects. As a foundation working for children, we get the opportunity of interacting with many families across the country and know that many young girls continue to face challenges in accessing life changing interventions for complex conditions.
Some of the key challenges that continue to exist for many of them are:
Lack of accessibility: Specialised medical care is still not available in many remote regions across the country. Limited infrastructure and inadequate facilities in remote regions result in girls having to travel long distances to reach a healthcare facility. As Child Heart Foundation India we know that centers that offer screening for congenital heart defects are not available in many regions of the country. The frontline health workers working in these areas are also not aware about the symptoms of congenital heart defects and the fact that in most cases these can be treated. We meet many girls who reach out for help when they are much older or when their symptoms become too pronounced. This implies that they have been deprived of optimal development chances for the number of years that they did not receive the treatment. In some unfortunate cases these children become inoperable owing to the lapse of time that passed in getting the right diagnosis.
Operations Director Simran Sagar with a girl child supported by us
Affordability: Access to specialised medical care can be expensive. In these situations, girls are usually put on a lower priority to access health care options. In many parts of the country where families struggle to earn even Rs 20,000 a month, given a situation where their girl is diagnosed with a medical condition, the parents usually opt for saving their resources and use towards the upbringing of the other children and the boys in the families.
Gender Bias: One of the biggest challenges that continues to remain is the gender bias that is ingrained in large parts of our society. Deep rooted cultural norms lead people to believe that investing in their girl’s health is not as important as using that money for their son’s. This mindset also permeates access to health care where the health needs of girls are always given lower priority. The well being of boys is often prioritised leaving girls on their own.
Inadequate Awareness and Education: This becomes another reason for girls not being able to access healthcare. Parents who are not aware that their girls can be treated and that an intervention can change the prognosis for the girls are less likely to seek medical help. As a Child Heart Foundation India, we know that many parents resist their girls getting treatment for fear that the scar will become a hindrance for getting married or that she will be unable to bear children. If only, they are sensitised to the fact that the scar is a sign of her heart becoming whole again and a way for her to grow to live her dreams.
IN FY 2022-23 we supported an equal number of boys and girls
As we continue to make progress on many fronts in breaking the gender barriers, we need to take a collective action to ensure girls especially those living in remote and backward areas can access healthcare and life saving interventions. This involves a multi-pronged approach where we build awareness at the grassroot level, improve the local health care system, educate and sensitise families to ensure that children even if they are girls can access life changing interventions. As a foundation working for children, we have been working to ensure that we support an equal number of boys and girls in all our interventions. In fact, in FY 2022-23 we supported an equal number of boys and girls. We continue to support girls from tribal areas where access to pediatric cardiac care facilities is almost non existent.
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