Gender differences in the utilisation of surgery for congenital heart disease in India

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Abstract

Background

Corrective surgery for congenital heart disease may be life-saving, but its utilisation depends upon several social and economic factors. Girls with cardiac defects may not receive equitable care in India, but this has not been systematically studied.

Methods

In this prospective study, parents or guardians of 405 consecutive children aged up to 12 years (mean±SD age 3.43±3.44 years; 271 boys) who had been advised to undergo elective paediatric cardiac surgery were interviewed using a validated questionnaire. The status of the patients was reviewed after a year and the factors associated with non-compliance with treatment were analysed. In a qualitative sub-study the parents of 20 children who had not undergone surgery were interviewed. Qualitative data were analysed using an inductive analytical approach.

Results

Of the 405 patients studied, 44% (59/134) of girls had undergone surgery at 1 year compared with 70% (189/271) of boys (χ2=24.97; p<0.001). Independent predictors for non-compliance with surgery included female gender (OR 3.46, 95% CI −2.06 to 5.80; p<0.0001), lower socioeconomic classes (lower-middle: OR 18.62, 95% CI −2.14 to 161.8, p=0.008; upper-lower: OR 34.27, 95% CI −3.72 to 316.0, p=0.002) and higher cost of surgery (OR 1.92, 95% CI −1.06 to 3.47, p=0.03). In the in-depth interviews, apprehensions about future matrimonial prospects of girls and lack of social support emerged as the major factors responsible for delays in undergoing surgery.

Conclusions

Female gender is an important determinant of non-compliance with paediatric cardiac surgery. Deep-seated social factors underlie this gender bias.

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