Free Healthcare Services Not Enough to Ensure Equal Access by Women: Study

Providing healthcare services free of cost does not ensure equal access to women, revealed an analysis of data on over 19 million Indian households by the University of Oxford and George Institute for Global Health. A smaller proportion of women than men received hospital care for gender neutral conditions across age groups and most disease categories, despite a state-sponsored insurance scheme in Andhra Pradesh providing access to free hospital care for poor households, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. The study analysed data on hospitalisation between 2008 and 2012 from the largest state-funded health insurance scheme in India, in undivided Andhra Pradesh.

It found that despite comparable proportions of women and men in the population, women had a lower share than men of hospitalisations (42%), bed-days (45%) and hospital costs (39%) for gender-neutral conditions. These findings were observed across 14 out of 18 disease categories and all age groups, but especially for the oldest and youngest women. “India has one of the highest levels of gender inequality in the world, and as the benefits of this insurance scheme are shared within households, it could be that the healthcare needs of girls and women—particularly those not of reproductive age—are considered less important than those of their brothers, fathers and husbands,” said Vivekanand Jha, executive director of The George Institute for Global Health in India.

At least half of the world’s population does not have full coverage of essential health services, and about 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty every year because they have to pay for healthcare. As women are the majority of the world’s poor and, therefore, less able to afford healthcare than men, universal healthcare coverage is seen as a strategy to improve gender equality. “Our findings have urgent implications for the current drive towards achieving universal healthcare coverage around the world, which we would expect to be of huge benefit for women,” said Sanne Peters, research fellow in epidemiology at The George Institute, Oxford. “It seems that ensuring that everyone can access essential healthcare services without incurring financial hardship is not enough on its own to ensure equal access by women and men. We need to consider other barriers that women might face in accessing healthcare, which may include families prioritising the healthcare needs of men over those of women,” Peters said. – LiveMint

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