Indian state offering free breast implants to the poor

Men and women in Chennai can now access publicly funded cosmetic surgery

Judith Vonberg
Saturday 24 February 2018 15:48 GMT
Breast implants of different types
Breast implants of different types (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

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Cosmetic surgery including breast implants is to be made available free of charge to residents of a state in south India.

Tamil Nadu’s health minister, C Vijaya Baskar, launched the scheme in state capital Chennai earlier this week, saying: “Why should beauty treatment not be available to the poor?”

"If we don't offer these procedures for free they may opt for dangerous methods or take huge loans for it," Mr Baskar said, according to the Times of India.

According to Dr VRamadevi, head of plastic surgery at Stanley Medical College and Hospital, where the clinic is located, many women had approached the hospital for breast reconstruction in the past few months.

She said some cancer victims and women with large breasts sought surgery for health-related reasons, while other women wanted to augment or shrink their breasts to boost their confidence levels, according to local media.

The new scheme is an extension of an existing policy, under which cancer patients can access free breast reconstruction surgery.

Now women or men who wish to alter their breasts for other health or cosmetic reasons will also be able to do so.

“As a plastic surgeon I don’t judge women when they seek surgery,” Dr Ramadevi said.

Apart from providing breast surgery, the clinic will also perform free cleft lip surgeries for children and hand transplants among other procedures.

The hospital, one of the oldest in India, is renowned for its plastic surgery department, which was first opened in 1971 and specialises in reconstructive hand surgery, according to the website.

In the past four decades, the department has undertaken around 66,000 plastic surgery procedures, according to hospital statistics.

Across India, almost 93,000 cosmetic plastic surgery procedures involving breast augmentation, implant removal or breast reduction were carried out in 2016, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

That represents around 0.007 per cent of the country’s population, a far lower rate than the 586,000 procedures carried out in the US in the same year, equating to 0.1 per cent of the population.

Some citizens responded with anger or incredulity to the news from the state health department, with one Twitter user writing: “What the HELL is this???? Is bigger breasts the only way to 'look beautiful'????”

Others were frustrated that the government was choosing to focus on cosmetic procedures ahead of other health issues.

“While this is a welcome step for those women who have got their breasts removed or damaged due to cancer, fire, or any other accidents. The same for pure cosmetic purpose in a govt hospital is a misplaced priority at the tax payers liability,” wrote Sridhar Ren on Twitter.

Although India does have an extensive public healthcare system, access is a problem for many.

According to a 2016 study, "large health disparities between states, between rural and urban populations, and across social classes persist. A large proportion of the population is impoverished because of high out-of-pocket health-care expenditures and suffers the adverse consequences of poor quality of care."

A report by the London-based Legatum Institute in 2016 ranked India at 104 out of 149 countries on its prosperity index and noted that a poor healthcare system was holding the country back from further advances.

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