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Health – whose right is it anyway?

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By Sian FitzGerald

On the day of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Ottawa, I cannot help but muse over the inequalities that will not be discussed during his visit.

I am a mother, Phaeba is a mother and Demay is a mother. I was born in the UK, raised in Montreal, and live in Ottawa. I have two healthy children. My pregnancies were attended by regular pre-natal check-ups, I gave birth in a hospital under the care of a midwife, and was visited in my home after birth to ensure the health of me and my babies. My children, a boy and a girl, are fully vaccinated, and both are in school. All of this care was easily accessible and barrier free.

Phaeba was born in Kerala, India, and raised in Chhattisgarh, India. She went to school, got a Master’s degree. She had difficulty getting pregnant, and so she and her husband sought the advice of medical professionals in India. They were treated with Intrauterine Insemination, and conceived the first time. She had a high-risk pregnancy and was on bed rest most of the time; she had regular continuous, comprehensive care, and had an emergency C-section delivery when her baby was 34 weeks in utero. She received regular follow-up care after delivering, and her baby is one year old now, fully vaccinated, healthy and happy.

Demay was born and raised in Bipatpur village in Pakur, India. India has one of the highest rates of maternal and child mortality in the world, and Pakur has even higher rates (81/1,000 infants die before reaching the age of 5 while 318/100,000 women die due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth). Literacy in Pakur is 50%, compared to the national average of 74%; half of the population is tribal, living in remote, inaccessible villages. Demay is a mother of two children, living with her husband Mahashay Murmu, a farmer. Demay was pregnant for the third time and gave birth at home; her husband is often very busy with agriculture work and she could not travel without him to seek health care. (In India women often can’t travel alone, health centres are far away, and there are costs associated with such visits that they may not be able to bear. Unfortunately the child didn’t survive.

Why did Demay not have the same access to health care and a healthy baby as me and Phaeba? Health – is it a right for only the privileged? The well-off? The educated? Demay and her baby should have the right to the same level of care, at the same cost, as any other mother and child in the world.