Gender bias reflects in healthcare

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal vividly showed the gender disparities that exist in India’s healthcare system, and obviously, women are the victims. The study was conducted in the AIIMS, Delhi, by researchers attached to the hospital, a Harvard research centre and the Prime Minister’s Economic Council. It showed that in 2016, most of the 23.8 lakh patients who visited the hospital for outpatient consultations — as many as 63% — were men and only 37% were women. This was not because women were healthier than men but because of the regressive attitudes that prevail in families and society. The National Sample Survey for the same year showed that more women fell ill than men. The AIIMS study showed that even among women there were fewer patients from younger and older age groups. Other studies have shown that the mortality rate among women in the hospital was higher than that among men. That was because treatment was sought for women only when they had serious ailments. 

The women who were studied were from many states and so results can be taken to reflect the position at the national level. The bias against women in the healthcare system is part of the general discrimination they face. Women’s health is not considered as important as that of men. There is a huge gender gap in the spending on health services. Access to healthcare is especially low for women from low-income groups. The limited resources of the family are used for men and boys than for women and girls. Women have problems of mobility also, which hamper their access to hospitals. They have less time than men to think of their own health as they have to do household work and take care of children. They are sometimes shy of consulting doctors because of traditional reservations about discussing their body. The stigma associated with some diseases forces many to keep their medical problems secret.

These are all the wrong reasons to deny women the healthcare that they need. The reasons are rooted in economic situations or in entrenched values, habits, and traditions of families and society. Programmes for the welfare and wellbeing of women should take these into consideration and make special efforts to take healthcare to women instead of waiting for them to access these facilities on their own. Values and attitudes in families and society, which are patriarchal and misogynistic, need to change. Women themselves should be made aware of their health needs and rights. 

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