When I was in undergrad, I took a class on birth and reproduction in various nations. One of the books we had to read for it was “Birth in Four Cultures” by Brigitte Jordan. It followed the labor and delivery of 4 young mothers from Yucatan, Sweden, Holland, and the United States. Since the author is an anthropologist, it was more of a narrative of the different women’s experiences than an analysis of the health systems (although she did include maternal mortality statistics for each country). One thing I came away with after reading this book was that participants in each country found their health system to be superior to others.
Incidentally, my sister had been expecting her first child at this time. She spent part of her pregnancy in India and part of it in the United States. During 2009-2013, India has had an estimated maternal mortality ratio of 200 deaths per every 100,000 live births. The United States, on the other hand, was closer to 21 per 100,000 live births. While we are behind most developed nations, the US is thought of to have a better health care system than the moderately developed India. Despite the drastic difference in rates, my sister said she felt her prenatal treatment was actually of better quality in India. I found that strange until she told me about (in her words) “The best hospital spa she had ever been to in her life.” Yes, a hospital SPA. You see, my sister was in India just as the newest franchise in a chain of luxury prenatal hospitals had opened up in her city. Known as the Cradle (Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?), this facility calls itself as a “50 bed boutique surgical center” and boasts “5-star hotel amenities”. If you go to the website, you’ll enter a world of pastel, flowers, and fat, healthy Caucasian-looking(?) babies. It makes delivery look like just another treatment to fit in between your mani-pedi and seaweed wrap.
You’re looking at the face of Koramangala.
More like GORA*-mangala. (Oh god that was a terrible pun. Sorry about that.)
Her experience in a public hospital in the US, on the other hand, sounds like a nightmare. With its long waits between appointments, phone tag with insurance companies, and a barely 10 minute visit with her OB asking about her pregnancy highlights before the (understandably over worked) doctor moves on to the next patient inline, my sister was not happy with her American services. And everyone knows to NEVER upset a pregnant woman. The Cradle and my sister’s US experience may not be an accurate representation of prenatal care in their respective health care systems. The US can have equally swanky private birthing suites for high income clientele and India still has to develop solutions for a litany of obstacles that prevent some mothers from having safe deliveries. However, the privatization of maternal health in India has provided high income parents-to-be a niche outside of the national health care system where they can get the most bang for their buck. Google “maternity hospital” with *insert medium to large Indian city here* and you’ll find several chains of high comfort maternity hospitals popping up all around the country. Before you go off raging against capitalism and the unfairness of life for low-income women, there is a silver lighting. Franchised hospitals for low-income women have also been opening up in the same region. While this might still be too expensive for some of the poorest women, it shows a trend of businesses providing services for disenfranchised populations outside of a health care system that doesn’t always succeed in the same tasks. So before you go off saying how “our health care system is better than yours” no matter what side of the world you live on, be aware that there will always be super rich people who have it better off than you. Yay?
P.S. I kind of want a mani-pedi (minus the baby) now.
*Hindi-Urdu for light skinned.