Gender Disparities in Indian Health Data

Session Report
Reet Lath

A Four-Day Immersive Online Certificate Training Course on ‘Healthcare & Gender Equity: Emerging Dimensions, Policies, Impact & Way Forward’ was organized by the Gender Impact Studies Centre, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi from August 28th, 2023 to August 31st, 2023. 

Professor Mala Ramanathan, Professor, Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies, SCTIMST, Thiruvananthapuram; Working Editor, Indian Journal of Medical Ethics (IJME), aims to help the audience understand health statistics in India and create gender-specific indicators from diverse data sources. She emphasises the need to go beyond basic gender comparisons to uncover nuanced health disparities and promote informed decision-making in public health policies and interventions.

She emphasised on the health statistics in India which encompasses health outcome data collected from diverse sources, including different regions and time periods. To make these numbers meaningful, they are transformed into indicators. Professor Ramanathan further explains how indicators are meaningful figures that reflect an individual or group’s health status regarding specific factors. They allow for comparisons across space and time. Examples of health indicators are COVID-19 mortality rates in different states, birth rates, or survival rates for COVID-19 in specific regions in a given year.

Professor Ramanathan also highlights the importance of recognizing various sources of health information, which are often collected by both government and non-government organizations. Some of the key organizations include the Census of India, the Sample Registration System, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the National Sample Survey Organization. Each of these sources provides valuable data that can be used to develop health indicators.

Analysing the Gender Gap in Healthcare Access and Preferences

Professor Ramanathan delves deeper into the data by discussing the variations in health treatment between men and women in both rural and urban areas, examining the role of wealth quintiles. The data reveals interesting insights, such as the differences in health care preferences and expenditures between genders. 

In rural areas, more women access medical treatment than men, reflecting a female advantage. However, in urban areas, there’s a tendency to favor men when it comes to health care utilization. The presentation suggests that this difference might be influenced by factors such as the severity of the disease, with women seeking care later in the course of an illness. This  highlights the importance of investigating the reasons behind these variations and understanding the gendered nature of health indicators.

The presentation highlights the need to delve into the underlying reasons behind these disparities and recognize the gendered nature of health indicators. It stresses the importance of developing gender-specific health indicators that not only identify differences but also reveal potential unfairness or disadvantages that may exist.

A central point in Professor Ramanathan’s message is the significance of analyzing microdata to tell meaningful stories about gender disparities in healthcare. These discussions underscore the urgent need for gender-sensitive health care policies, thorough data analysis, and robust support systems. The presentation emphasizes that achieving true gender equity in healthcare is not only crucial during crises but should be an ongoing priority.

Acknowledgement: Reet Lath is a research intern at IMPRI.

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