Why do parents favour boys over girls for Congenital Heart Defect treatment in India?
August 27, 2020 | Contributed by Monisa Nadeem
You might want to read the topic of this blog again. As insane as it might sound, it is the harsh reality of our country.
A team of Cardiologists at the Dayanand Medical College and Hospital in Ludhiana, Punjab researched the prospect of free treatment to children with congenital heart disorders. Even the promise of free treatment did not dilute the underlying gender bias among some parents. These biases run deep in our society and have been documented in areas of nutrition, immunisation and cardiac surgery services in the past as well
It is interesting to note that their analysis found that there are 324 boys (62 per cent) in a sample of 519 children who underwent cardiac procedures. This is a finding that the cardiologists consider unusual because the incidence of congenital heart disorders is nearly the same in girls as in boys. Among the 519 children screened, 459 had congenital heart disorders that typically led to breathlessness, easy tiredness, heart palpitations, swollen feet or abdomen and frequent lung infections, among other symptoms. Left untreated, such conditions are likely to worsen and cause heart failure or death.
Now let that sink in. There is a gender bias in medical treatment for children in many parts of India.
And the trend seems to be the same for rural and urban Indian families. And what’s even more baffling to doctors and researchers alike is the unchanged attitudes of families even after organisations like ours are ready to bear the full cost of the medical treatment with the help of our generous family who donate to save little hearts.
Given the almost equal gender prevalence, it is alarming that relatively fewer girls are brought to the tertiary centres and even fewer are having the required corrective procedures done. The study concludes that female gender was identified as a major independent predictor of not receiving treatment, together with low socioeconomic class and the cost of surgery. In fact, medical expenditure for similar illnesses on healthcare services borne by families varied significantly between boys (Indian National Rupee (INR) 77) and girls (INR 45).
Deep-rooted social prejudices against girls, include differences in matrimonial prospects even after successful surgical procedures, lack of support from family and relatives for the treatment of girls and less conviction among parents of female patients to dedicate their time and resources compared with those of male patients have been reported as some of the reasons for gender discrimination. A few other reasons could also include concerns about a surgical scar on the chest of the female child, future matrimonial prospects and the need to conceal the illness of the child from relatives and friends. It becomes more of a taboo for the girl than the boy.
Abolishing gender bias in child healthcare is a major challenge, especially in India where healthcare professionals are themselves products of this gender-biased culture. Corrective actions could include, the empowerment of women, education of female children, elimination of sex-selective abortions, and discussion at grass root levels about traditional culture and societal norms might go a long way in fighting this social evil.
As a foundation working hard to ensure that every child has a right to quality care and medical treatment, it is our responsibility to draw attention to these existing gender discrepancies and ensure that we encourage the parents of female children to ensure equal delivery of health to their daughters. With the help of regular screening camps in partnership with various hospitals across remote parts of India, we have successfully helped over 2900+ children with critical illnesses, including an almost equal ratio of both genders.
You can also become a part of this journey as we try to bridge this gender gap and donate to save little hearts. Afterall, giving is not just about making a donation. It is about making a difference