According to health experts in India, a proper grievance system and continuous training of health workers are needed to ensure that patients are not discriminated against in hospitals on the basis of their caste, religion or gender.
As the world marks Zero Discrimination Day on Tuesday, experts have also urged authorities to take more action to ensure citizens are treated equally when using the country’s public health services.
A number of surveys in recent years have highlighted the discrimination people face because of their religion or caste when accessing these services.
In November, a report by British charity Oxfam provided insight into the suffering of patients while benefiting from healthcare services. In the survey, Oxfam India found that around 33% of Muslim respondents said they had experienced discrimination in hospitals because of their religion.
The number of Muslims in India according to the 2011 census was 172 million.
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The report also notes that more than 20% of Dalit and Adivasi (tribal) respondents said they had experienced discrimination in hospitals.
The Indian caste system divides Hindus into four main categories: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Apart from that are the Dalits or the untouchables.
Indian public health expert Rajesh Kumar told Anadolu Agency that there is a need for a local grievance mechanism that would deal with such issues immediately.
“In all public spheres, including the health sector, there is no discrimination because our constitution guarantees equality for all,” Kumar said.
“If these reports resulted in findings, there must be an appropriate mechanism that would address the violations and take prompt action to stop similar actions in the future.”
The Oxfam report was not alone in presenting such findings.
The Center for Health and Related Topics (CEHAT), an Indian organization, conducted a similar survey earlier in the financial capital Mumbai.
Her report, which highlighted the various barriers that Muslim and non-Muslim women face in accessing health services, recommended that “the health system must address these stereotypes and biases among its staff.”
Sangeeta Rege, the coordinator of CEHAT, told Anadolu Agency that the problem is “serious even today and even in metropolitan cities” and argued that there is a need to address these issues.
“There is an urgent need to educate medical students, nurses and all health workers at the pre-service level to have an intersectional approach to treatment and care delivery before these deep-rooted biases take hold,” she said.
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She added that while they also offer a full day of training to all health worker cadres on the issue of “communalism and how these biases prevent marginalized communities from accessing services”, Rege said that “a one-off training is not adequate”.
“It requires long-term engagement with health workers and ongoing dialogue,” she said.
In 2019, a study of outpatient appointments at a large tertiary care hospital in the capital, New Delhi, published in the British Medical Journal’s online review, BMJ Open, suggested that there was “widespread discrimination based on gender in access to health care” for women in India.
“This calls for systematic societal and governmental action,” the researchers said, adding that their study “has important implications for gender-related health policy that has so far focused on maternal health.”
No discrimination by doctors
Dr Sahajanand Prasad Singh, national president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), an organization that represents doctors in India, told Anadolu Agency that there is no such discrimination by doctors .
“For a doctor, every patient is equal, and no discrimination occurs on the basis of religion or caste,” he said. “However, if such things are reported from the health care side, they need to be addressed.”