I have spent most of today reviewing a PhD thesis, a pending task that I was not somehow getting to. It is something I usually put high on my “pending tasks” list – as delays affect the candidate. This particular work is studying complex immunological problems in patients who have undergone kidney transplantation. The subject is irrelevant to the point of this piece. What struck me was that of the 70 transplant recipients in the study group, 67 were males – and let me assure you that renal failure is not a male specific disease. It occurs equally in men and women.
Let me first of all elaborate, that in most developed countries transplanted organs come from cadavers. These organs are harvested from the dying individual, with the consent of next-of-kin, when the brain stem is dead but heart is still beating. Victims of traffic accidents and stroke are the usual donors. Donation of organs by a living person (one kidney or part of a liver) was considered unethical in those societies. However, the increasing road safety norms has resulted in sharp decline in fatal road accidents and live donations have got acceptance to meet the shortage of organs.
In India, that is not our problem. Our ever increasing number of road accidents, however, do not give us any organs for transplantation. This is because most are fatal on the spot and and there is very little chance of moving the victim rapidly enough to the few transplant centers in the country. Also, there is a strong cultural bias against organ donation. Most of the organ transplantations, both kidney and liver, are done from living (mostly related) donors. But consistently in every transplant center in the country, >90% of kidney recipients will be male and most of the kidney donor would be a woman, the wife, the mother and even grandmother!!!
These are facts that I have long been familiar with, since I have been associated with the transplantation program at the various hospitals I have worked in. But, the gender bias is not true only in this scenario. Rarely do poor parents spend money to treat a girl child with leukemia, whereas they would sell their land and home to treat the male child. Women reach the hospital far later for treatment of disease than the men. Which is probably why, even when I was a student there used to be 3 times as many medical and surgical beds for men as for women. And the sex ratios were close to 1:1 in those days!!
But today, these figures struck me a afresh, primarily because the morning Hindu had carried a report on the undernutrition of girls. In a survey among 679 pediatricians from Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, 48% had seen more cases of malnutrition among girls than boys and 54% reported boys had more appropriate weight for age. And 60% of these doctors had found that only birth of a male child was celebrated in the family!!!
And when I switched on the TV, Barkha Dutt was interviewing Oprah Winfrey at the Jaipur Litfest. And there she was, talking of the unfairness of the fate of the Brindavan widows, whom she had visited.
And, of course, the stories of the ‘missing girl child’ is legend in our lexicon!! So, in every stage of life from birth, through childhood and as adults, for women, gender bias is a part of the deal, it seems!! So is it any surprise, as to who gets the kidney?