Gender disparity is a significant stumbling block in socio-economic development and has implications on access to healthcare. Maternal mortality in India is amongst the highest in the world. Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) refers to death of women during pregnancy or within 42 days after delivery/ termination of pregnancy per one lakh live births. In 2010 MMR was 212 in India, 35 in Sri Lanka and 37 in China.

National health programs such as the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and the Family Welfare Program (FWP) have been created to address the maternal healthcare needs of women across India. While the government has taken several steps to reduce the number of deaths related to maternal mortality, a lot of ground is yet to be covered in this direction. According to a Wikipedia write-up, “a 2011 research study conducted by Nair and Panda found that although India was able to improve some measures of maternal health since the enactment of the NHRM in 2005, the country was still far behind the most emerging economies.” The article further states, “As a nation, India contributed nearly 20 percent of all maternal deaths worldwide between 1992 and 2006.”

According to the National Health Portal, “The primary reasons for the high levels of maternal mortality are directly related to disparities of economic conditions and cultural constraints limiting the access to care.” While economic conditions prevent a large population of women from accessing quality healthcare, several households do not take medical help for child birth. Instead they resort to home remedy and medication. Perhaps subscription to health insurance plans related to pregnancy would encourage families that belong to these sections to reach out to doctors for medical help.

Women, the world over, are at increased risk of breast cancer. According to GLOBOCAN (WHO), “for the year 2012, an estimated 70,218 women died in India due to breast cancer, more than any other country in the world (second: China – 47,984 deaths and third: US – 43,909 deaths). Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women all over India and accounts for 25% to 31% of all cancers in women in Indian cities.”

As per statistics in BCI (Breast Cancer India), the age group of women affected with breast cancer has shifted alarmingly. The report states, “25 years back, out of every 100 breast cancer patients, 2% were in 20 to 30 years age group, 7% were in 30 to 40 years age group and so on. 69% of the patients were above 50 years of age. Presently, 4% are in 20 to 30 years age group, 16% are in 30 to 40 years age group, 28% are in 40 to 50 years age group.” Therefore, the age profile of patients has steadily shifted towards younger women over the past 25 years. While 25 years ago, 31% of the patients were below the age of 50, today over 48% of the patients are women in this age group. Given the age profile, a large section of this population is working women.

Financial implications of debilitating diseases such as cancer are large and sometimes insurmountable. Treatment involves repetitive hospitalization and expensive medication including chemotherapy. Given this, securing oneself for unforeseen circumstances is a prudent financial requirement.

According to a BCI (Breast Cancer India) report, “In the West, majority of breast cancers (read more than 75%) present in stages 1 and 2, resulting in good survival; and there is an ever increasing numbers of patients presenting mammography detected cancer, with no symptoms.” Clearly, the first step in checking and reducing deaths related to breast cancer is early detection of symptoms. An analysis of cancer rates between the years 1982 and 2005, as conducted by ICMR (The Indian Council of Medical Research), showed that 10 out of every 100,000 women living in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Bangalore were diagnosed with breast cancer about 10 years ago, compared with 23 women per every 100,000 today.

With changes in lifestyle, people are becoming susceptible to diseases those were hitherto rare or were restricted to people of older age-group. Healthcare is a significant focus area of the present government in India today. Women are battling several challenges in their collective efforts to progress, meet their career aspirations and contribute to the country’s socio-economic growth. Financial setbacks resulting from health related ailments are perhaps the least of the many challenges women should be worried about. Having a health insurance cover helps reduce the financial outgo in the event of hospitalization and mitigates your risk substantially.