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Queen of Hearts: The Situation Facing Girls Needing Access to Cardiac Care

At Genesis Foundation, we work towards helping children with congenital heart disorders (CHD) who cannot access life-saving medical procedures due to a lack of financial resources. Each child’s life is precious, and they deserve a shot at life unencumbered by health complications, and a childhood filled with schoolyard games instead of hospital beds.

India has a had a long history of preferring the male child, and various studies have shown that even if the daughter escapes the noose of rampant female foeticide and infanticide prevalent in our country, she will eventually face gender bias in her access to nutrition, education and even healthcare. One such study, published in the journal Heart Asia conducted by a team of cardiologists in Dayanand Medical College, Ludhiana, points out that even when the healthcare provided is a lifesaving procedure, as well as provided free of cost, the gender bias persists. Only four out of ten children operated upon for heart defects were girls, indicating a deep-rooted gender bias.

From a sample of 519 children who underwent a heart procedure, they found that 324, or 62% were boys, most of the children in the sample were from households in Punjab and some from Haryana. The finding is of interest to cardiologists since the incidence of CHD is equally likely in girls as it is in boys.

Cardiologists also noted that even after taking into account the differences in the number of boys and girls with congenital heart disorders actually brought into the hospital for treatment there was an absolute difference of nearly 9 per cent between boys and girls. Their study, also found no significant difference between urban and rural children. Other studies have shown that the situation for girls is better, marginally however, for girls seeking surgery in the south.

Left untreated, CHDs have the possibility to turn fatal and are one of the causative factors for infant mortality in India. With March being the month that International Women’s Day falls in, perhaps this a relevant time to bring up this 2016 study again. How can women hope for a better future, when their childhoods themselves are subject to such injustices? Is it the thought of girls as a ‘burden’ that continues to plague India, a cause for this apathy? An idea that illness is god’s way of lessening their ‘burden’? How do we change this around and make sure that each girl has access to safe healthcare just as any boy? Since even free healthcare sees the incidence of gender bias, it implies that it is not merely economic considerations, but also societal conditions that influence a girl’s chance of getting the surgery she needs.

At Genesis Foundation however, there seems to be cause for celebration as the ground reality of the situation seems to be slowly but steadily improving. In 2017, we moved from a 60-40 gender ratio to a closer- 50- 50 divide. Thus today 49% of the total cases we have sponsored have been for the girl child. Further we have seen an annual growth of 17% in surgeries sought for girls, at the children’s healthcare foundation.

Save little hearts regardless of their gender, save them because each heart deserves to keep beating, keeping time to the music in this world.

To the little women’s hearts, we have been able to treat (and the brave women in their lives) – and many more under our wing a Happy Women’s Day!

- Contributed by Ranjini Nair