Gender bias: fewer girls get cardiac care in Punjab

male-OptimizedA retrospective study involving 519 school-children from various areas of Punjab has revealed that gender bias exists with parents favouring boys over girls when it comes to getting their children’s heart problems corrected, even when treatment is provided completely free of charge.

The children were diagnosed with either congenital or rheumatic heart disease. Of those who were referred for cardiac intervention, only 195 (37.6 per cent) were girls, while the remaining 324 (62.4 per cent) were boys.

Gender bias was apparent for all ages of children and seen in parents from both rural and urban communities. In fact, the discrimination was greater in the case of urban communities with the ratio of male to female patients being 1.71:1 for urban setting compared with 1.64:1 in the rural setting.

The results have been published today (May 26) in the journal Heart Asia.

Children were diagnosed with heart problems during a screening programme carried out under the National Rural Health Mission between 2009 and 2014. Since the prevalence of congenital heart disease is nearly the same in both the sexes, relatively fewer girls being brought to tertiary care centres and even fewer of them undergoing corrective procedures reflected a strong gender bias, the study said. Also, the average enrolment of girls (46 per cent) in schools was slightly lower than for boys (54 pr cent).

“The data suggests that economic and financial reasons are not the only factors leading to gender discrimination and inequity in healthcare,” writes  Dr. Shibba Takkar Chhabra, the corresponding author from the Dayanand Medical College & Hospital. And this discrimination existed in both urban and rural communities.

Gender bias
While economic reasons were cited for gender-based differences in accessing healthcare among the adult population, this study revealed that “gender bias affects the health-seeking behaviour of parents for their female children even when the medical services are provided free of cost.”

“The deep-rooted social issues (beyond just the economic causes) need to be addressed by medical professionals as well as policymakers to ensure equal access to healthcare for both genders,” the authors write.

Published in The Hindu on May 26