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Women may be missing out on outpatient care access in north India

Missing out on healthcare services may not always result in death, so death rates may not capture the extent of gender disparity

Saumya Joseph | Reuters 

hospital, Ayushman Bharat, healthcare

Women account for only a little over one-third of appointments at a major hospital in New Delhi, highlighting extensive gender discrimination in access to services, researchers say.

Looking at outpatient visits to a large hospital in the capital, the analysis found that about half of the women who ought to have received care were “missing.” Women under age 30 and over age 60 were the most conspicuously absent, relative to their actual population numbers, the study team reports in BMJ Open.

Gender disparity in is usually studied by comparing mortality rates of females versus males, said study co-author Mudit Kapoor, an associate professor of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute in New Delhi.

However, missing out on services may not always result in death, so death rates may not capture the extent of gender disparity, he told Reuters Health in a phone interview.

For the current study, Kapoor’s team analysed data from more than 2.3 million visits to New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in 2016, across all departments excluding obstetrics and gynecology, made by more than 880,000 outpatients. More than 90 per cent of these patients were from Delhi and three neighboring states: Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The researchers also used census data to characterise the populations of the four states by sex and age.

Overall, the ratio of male AIIMS patients to female patients was 1.69, meaning nearly two thirds of the outpatient visits were made by males.

But among children and adults up to age 30, twice as many males compared to females made visits. Between ages 31 and 59, there were about four women patients for every 10 men, then after age 60, women started disappearing again, with one woman for every three men.

The gender disparity worsened for women living farther from the hospital. The sex ratio increased from 1.41 in Delhi to 2.37 in Bihar, which is farthest from Delhi. This ratio is also much higher than Bihar’s overall sex ratio of 1.09, according to 2011 census data.

Disparities may be driven by the perceived productivity of women across various stages of their life, which ultimately determines whether they get to visit a healthcare center, the researchers note.

“If you’re in the middle-aged group, then you are a useful member in the family. The moment you become elderly or when you’re a child, you’re not a useful member to the family, and as a result this discrimination goes up,” Kapoor said.

Younger and older women are also likely to rely on people to accompany them to the hospital, which may result in them not getting timely care, noted Ambuj Roy, a study co-author and professor at AIIMS.

First Published: Sat, August 31 2019. 23:17 IST